What exactly was ‘manipulated’ in Kate Middleton’s photo? Experts weigh in

A new family portrait featuring Catherine, Princess of Wales, with her three children has come under scrutiny. 

The photo, the first since of Kate since she underwent abdominal surgery in January, was released as part of a Mother’s Day message (March 10 was Mother’s Day in the United Kingdom this year), part of the family’s annual tradition. The photo was taken by Prince William last week in Windsor, according to a statement from Kensington Palace.

By the end of the day, multiple news agencies, like the Associated Press and Reuters, retracted the photo issued by Kensington Palace, saying the image was “manipulated.”

In a statement to NBC News, the AP said: “The Associated Press initially published the photo, which was issued by Kensington Palace. The AP later retracted the image because at closer inspection, it appears that the source had manipulated the image in a way that did not meet AP’s photo standards. The photo shows an inconsistency in the alignment of Princess Charlotte’s left hand.”

The day after the photo was posted, the Kensington Palace X account released an apology from Kate, signed C.

“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. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C,” she wrote on X.

“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. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C,” she wrote on X.

The internet has been running rampant with theories around the princess’s health and whereabouts. This week’s photo snafu has only fueled ideas that something is going on behind palace doors. 

TODAY.com spoke with photography and editing experts to clarify what is likely edited in the Mother’s Day photograph, and weigh in on the theories the photo inspired. 

What was edited in the royal family’s photo?

Joscelynne Feinstein, a professional studio photographer based in Los Angeles, and Naomi White, the faculty chair of the New York Film Academy, say the retracted photo has are several subtle indications of editing, detailed below.

Charlotte’s clothing

Feinstein says that Princess Charlotte’s position in the photograph has been altered, as indicated in AP’s statement.

“Charlotte, to me, is 100% a Photoshop fail,” she explains, pointing to her sweater sleeve by her wrist on the right side of the photo. “You can see how it has kind of been cut out and her wrist seems to not be part of her hand.”


Feinstein also pointed out the blurring around Charlotte’s legs, despite her hands and Kate’s hands being clear.

“Charlotte’s hands are in focus. Kate’s hand is in focus,” she says. “All of a sudden, you move to what would be Charlotte’s left side, but it goes soft, and then things behind it go back in focus. If it was a sandwich, you have: focus, out of focus, focus, and that doesn’t make sense.”

How could this have happened? White offered a theory in a statement to TODAY.com via email, focusing specifically on Charlotte’s hand and the place where her sleeve doesn’t connect.

“It looks like a small (editing) adjustment focused on the hands, but the alignment of the wrist an) forearm not fully lining up left a trace of the original gesture,” White said.

White says the editor may have “switched out the original part of the image (of Charlotte) for another one,” then “forgot to align the place where we see the old sleeve.” Or, the editor “changed the hand gesture in preference for another one.”  

Kate’s hair and Charlotte’s hair

Feinstein points to the look of Kate and her daughter Charlotte’s hair. Kate’s hair, on the right side of the photo, seems to darken, or be blurry. 

“I think she tried to clean up her hair from flyaways (and it) seems like she might have been trying to clean up Charlotte’s flyaways,” Feinstein says.

The window

Feinstein says the windowpane of the structure behind the family appears to be a “different shade of white” than the rest of the house. 

“I don’t understand why she would Photoshop that. I would I would put that under ‘unexplained,'” she says.

Weighing in on viral theories

Users on social media have been speculating about how the image came to be. Feinstein analyzed some of the most discussed theories.

Vogue cover from 2016

On social media, users suspected Kate’s face from the Mother’s Day photo was lifted from a 2016 Vogue cover.

my analysis of the kate middleton photo saga is that they took her face from the vogue cover she did years ago and edited it in pic.twitter.com/JLXts08zp5

— Ruby Naldrett (@rubynaldrett) March 11, 2024

Feinstein weighed in on this theory, calling it not very likely.

“I’m not sure about that Vogue one,” Feinstein says. “That (would) require a lot of manipulation, specifically with the sunlight on her face. And look at the hair and the hat. They would have to do a composite. I don’t think that’s where they got the photo. That’s a ton of work to do to manipulate a photo when they could probably find a better and easier photo.”

Same outfits, different colors

Another theory posited that Kate and her children were wearing similar clothes to what they wore during a charity outing to a baby bank in November, but edited to be different colors. The video of the family’s outing was released in December. 

Feinstein says editing clothing is tricky.

“It’s very difficult to Photoshop an article of clothing on someone,” Feinstein says. “It’s one thing to change Kate’s sweater color but you can’t put a sweater over a cardigan over a turtleneck because it’s not 3D.”

Why would the photo be edited?

This is the question is at the heart of the controversy. Is photo editing par for the course in the digital age, or is there something deeper at work here? Online, people are divided.

“What are they hiding? Something happened to her that they don’t want anyone to know,” one X user wrote.

As a photographer, White says editing is standard. “Most parents, especially if they have multiple kids, edit their photos to get everybody to smile and that’s hard with little kids,” White says. 

“There have always been gray areas in photography. It’s always both fact and fiction. We’re always editing things out.”

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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