What we know about the Princess of Wales's 'manipulated' family photo

Kate has apologised "for any confusion" after a family picture sparked controversy over claims it had been digitally altered.

The first picture of the Princess of Wales following her abdominal surgery has been released, as she thanked the public for their support.
The first picture of the Princess of Wales following her abdominal surgery has sparked claims it was manipulated. (Prince and Princess of Wales)

Kensington Palace is under increasing pressure to reveal what parts of the Princess of Wales's controversial Mother's Day photo were edited as speculation about the image continues to spread on social media.

The palace has not commented since Kate publicly apologised on Monday morning over the image, taken by the Prince of Wales, except to say it would not be releasing the original unedited photograph.

However, following a wave of online theories about how the image may have been doctored, there have been a number of calls for the original photo to be released to quell more unfounded rumours being spread as Kate continues to recover from surgery.

Some news sites, including the Times, have reported unnamed palace insiders saying that Kate feels "awful" and was keen to take responsibility for the fallout.

On Wednesday, the Daily Mail - traditionally seen as supportive of the royal institution - prominently urged the Waleses to release the original photo on their front page.

What we know

At 9am on Sunday, Kensington Palace published the photo with Kate surrounded by her three children, George, 10, Charlotte, eight, and Louis, five. The photo was said to have been taken by Prince William last week at the family's home in Windsor.

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It was published on Sunday to coincide with Mother's Day and an attempt to put an end to speculation about her health since her surgery in January. The last time Kate was photographed in public was on Christmas Day while attending a church service at the Royal Family's Sandringham estate.

In the post, Kate said: "Thank you for your kind wishes and continued support over the last two months. Wishing everyone a Happy Mother's Day. C."

However, observers on social media raised concerns about the image almost immediately.

Some pointed to two main areas where the image was potentially doctored – the cuff on Charlotte's cardigan does not appear to align with her left hand and has a circle that appears out of place and part of Louis' jumper where the pattern appears to be out of sync. It was also noted that Kate does not appear to be wearing a wedding ring on her left hand.

There appears to be discrepancies in the photo of the Princess of Wales and her children. (PA/Yahoo News UK)
There appears to be discrepancies in the photo of the Princess of Wales and her children. (Prince and Princess of Wales/Yahoo News UK)

Later on Sunday, the Associated Press (AP) became the first of a series of international news and photo agencies to retract the image. AP issued a "kill notification" for the photos, an industry term meaning it had been retracted and was not to be used.

The agency said: "At closer inspection, it appears that the source has manipulated the image. No replacement photo will be sent." More agencies followed as the planned public relations effort quickly turned into a PR nightmare.

On Monday morning, Kate issued the unprecedented clarification and apology. Later that day Kate was spotted leaving Windsor in a car with William as he was driven to the Commonwealth Day service in London. Kate was not due to attend the service but instead understood to have a private appointment.

On Tuesday, speculation about the origins of the image and the extent of the changes continued to spread. Public relations and crisis consultant Mark Borkowski was one of those to urge the royals to release the original. “It’s plausible she’s at home playing with the computer and using an AI tool," he said. "But if they’re really going to regain any sort of trust they should release the unedited photo, it can’t be that bad if they just made a few tweaks.


Copyright in the photograph vests in The Prince and Princess of Wales.
Publications are asked to credit The Prince of Wales.  The photograph is being made available by way of license on condition that the photograph shall be solely for news editorial use only, no charge should be made for the supply, release, or publication of the photograph; there shall be no commercial use whatsoever of the photograph - including any use in merchandising, advertising or any other non-editorial use. The image must not be digitally enhanced, cropped, manipulated or modified in any manner or form.  The photograph shall not be used after 31st December 2024, without
prior permission from Kensington Palace.
 Any questions relating to the use of the photograph should be first referred to
Kensington Palace and before publication.

Undated handout photo issued by Kensington Palace of the Princess of Wales with her children, Prince Louis, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, taken in Windsor, earlier this week, by the Prince of Wales. The Princess of Wales shared a message on social media thanking the public for their continued support and wishing people a Happy Mother's Day.  Issue date: Sunday March 10, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story ROYAL Kate. Photo credit should read: Prince of Wales/Kensington Palace/PA Wire 

NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
The Princess of Wales pictured with her children, left to right, Louis, George and Charlotte. (Prince and Princess of Wales)

“I find they have risen to the challenge, provided the statement as an explanation – the question is with all the conspiracy theories running around, is whether people believe it and I’m not sure that they will.”

On 12 March, American broadcaster CNN said it will review all photographs handed out by Kensington Palace, saying it “expects those images to be accurate”. They added that it was “unacceptable to move, change or manipulate the pixels of an image” as it would alter the reality of the situation the image is intended to document.

The British Press Photographers’ Association (BPPA) also said the controversy has highlighted the broader issue of the need for professional photographers to take pictures of royals in their more intimate moments. CPPA chairman Jamie Lorriman, chairman of the BPPA said that press photographers “have standards we have to adhere to”, adding that they “should be independent rather than spoon fed”.

What we don't know

We still don't know what the original unedited photo taken by William looked like nor how the fallout has been dealt with behind closed doors.

While Kensington Palace said on Monday that it would not be releasing the original, it is under increasing pressure to do so to dispel the wave of speculation and conspiracy theories on social media.

The palace's refusal to release the original image means it is impossible to know the extent of the editing that took place and whether - as Kate's statement implies - the changes were minor ones.

Royal sources said she made “minor adjustments” to the image, while Sky News reported that its examination of the photo’s metadata revealed it was saved in Adobe Photoshop twice on an Apple Mac on Friday and Saturday and the picture was taken on a Canon Camera.

The lack of transparency continues to be a problem and any official statements have been replaced by unnamed comments to news organisations from unnamed 'palace insiders'.

The Times reported she felt awful and wanted to come clean for her seeming error of judgement. The Times also reported that the couple had found the recent rumours about her disappearance from public life following her health issues "distressing".

The Daily Mirror reported a "friend" saying that Kate "would likely be upset by the furore caused by what was supposed to be an innocent family photograph”.

It isn't the first time a photo featuring Kate has been questioned over apparent clumsy editing practices.

Royal watchers noticed that William’s legs appeared to be missing from behind Princess Charlotte’s chair. (PA)
Royal watchers noticed that William’s legs appeared to be missing from behind Princess Charlotte’s chair. (PA)

In December, the Wales's Christmas card prompted similar questions over the festive black and white picture, pointing out that William's legs appeared to be missing from behind Charlotte's chair and, more obviously, Prince Louis' middle finger also seemed to be absent.

It raises the question of whether the Prince and Princess of Wales had been advised to stop editing images - particularly given the level of speculation around Kate at the moment - and, if not, why?

Kate 'may have edited family image with AI'

A photography expert has said the Princess of Wales may have used artificial intelligence to alter part of the image of her and her children.

Stephen Davies, known as The Photoshop Guy, is a photographer and digital artist near Cardiff, Wales, and has 25 years of Photoshop experience.

He told Yahoo News UK there were a number of discrepancies with the image, but that Kate's right hand around Louis' waist could have been added using AI.

"With Kate's hand around Louis, it's very low-res compared to the rest of the image," he said. "I believe that looks like it's been inserted with AI because it's got all the signs of using artificial intelligence. It's not as sharp as the rest of the image and there's no texture in that part as well.

"If you look at the jumper there's lots of texture but if you look at the shadow area there's no texture there. I know that's not motion blur by the camera, it's just soft. To create a hand in that area from scratch would be near impossible but in AI you can do it with the click of a button."