The Princess and the Pic

Thom Weidlich 03.14.24


Catherine, Princess of Wales — a.k.a., Kate Middleton — apologized Monday for posting a photo of herself and her three kids that, as it turns out, she digitally altered. Her apology was not so sterling, but the episode serves as a cautionary tale about what can happen if you try to pull a photo fast one: It can be enlarged into a crisis.

Sunday, March 10 was Mother’s Day in the U.K. The princess posted the pic (above) on her and hubby’s Instagram page. Several national newspapers featured it on their front pages, as it was the first released of her since she had abdominal surgery two months ago; people had been speculating about her health and whereabouts.

The next day came the apology via the prince and princess’s official X (formerly Twitter) account: “Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused.”

At least five major news organizations — PA Media, Getty Images, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and Reuters — had removed the photo for violating their policies. In its article on the matter, the AP said it “retracted it because closer inspection revealed the source had manipulated the image in a way that did not meet AP’s photo standards. For instance, the photo shows an inconsistency in the alignment of [daughter] Princess Charlotte’s left hand.” Other outlets pointed out other oddities.

‘Backfired Spectacularly’

The reluctant apology left a lot of unanswered questions, such as where the photo was taken and exactly what was altered. This gave the story legs. It’s better to get the full story out all at once to prevent speculation going on for eons. “If the goal was to reassure the public about Middleton’s whereabouts, the image has backfired spectacularly,” The Verge wrote.

And therein lies the cautionary tale. Especially in this age of artificial intelligence, news agencies are forced to become more and more diligent (using more and more sophisticated tools) in monitoring photographs and videos for verboten editing. Communicators may be tempted to manipulate a pic or video to make things look rosier, but it’s wiser to understand news outlets’ graphics policies and obey them.

Going beyond anything basic (such as cropping) isn’t worth the embarrassment and the likely crisis that will flare up when you inevitably get caught.

Photo Credit: Screenshot from Instagram

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