Wednesday, March 13, 2024

The modified Kate Middleton photo - what's the big deal?

I woke up the other day and turned on the news. One of the big stories of the day was the controversy about a modified image of Kate Middleton and her family. Being a photographer, I was highly intrigued by this story. 

By now, most of you have seen the image.

At first, people were talking about one or two areas of the image that were manipulated. Now that a couple of days have passed, experts have located many areas of the photo that have been retouched.

But my question is: Why is this such a big deal?

I can tell you that every family portrait I have ever taken has been retouched to one extent or the other. 

Here is what I am typically modifying:

* Adjustments to exposure, shadows, highlights and white balance (if needed)

* Removal of fly away hairs that are distracting (either going through the face, flying into the air, or going into another person) 

* Removal of dust or pet hair on people's clothing

* Removing skin imperfections (bad acne or shaving cuts)

* Removal of strings hanging off clothing

* Removal of distractions in the background (bright spots, exit signs, polls)

And sometimes I will even do the following:

* Whitening of eyes if needed

* Lightening of wrinkles (typically around the eyes)

* Head swaps (if a person had their eyes closed in a group shot)

During the CBS newscast, one of the anchormen said "I don't understand why any photo needs to be retouched" to which I laughed. I am sure that this same person has plenty of portraits that have been taken and modified, whether he knows it or not.

I have said this many times in the past. I think that every photo needs some retouching, in one form or another. So I don't understand why people are making such a big deal about this photo. Kate Middleton is known for being a photo enthusiast and she has taken many of her own photos in the past. But she is not a professional, and would not have the same Photoshop skills as we would. It looks to me like she was making the same modifications I would do, but just not as proficient at the process.

Yes, she is a royal which means that the spotlight is on her and her family. But is this photo controversy really worth the scrutiny that they are putting her through? I think that there are much bigger and more relevant issues in the world. 

I just thought I would put my thoughts out there. What do you think?


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Jason said...

Agree! It’s a nothing sandwich. Slow news cycle

Deborah Zimmer said...

I would hope there is as much concern for her health issues and (long) recovery rather than an obviously edited photograph.

Anonymous said...

If you live in UK, you will understand why this is a BIG deal, Jeff!

Anonymous said...

Good assessment Jeff. πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡²

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if the entire photo was composited since she might not be in any shape to be photographed after her surgery.

Anonymous said...

I had always thought news story photographs, crime photos etc. could not be manipulated but portraits are far game to insure the best capture.

Anonymous said...

Royal family so regular family rules don't apply here. Any parent wants their kids to shine in the best light. 20, even 10 years ago. You wouldn't see parents photoshopping their family snaps but on the advent of AI and multi-depth lens mobile cameras. It's as easy as a click. Three days on and it's still a thing, is plain crazy. Just glad parents ain't ever seen what levels I went to in editing their children haha!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff, as a retired pro wedding and portrait photographer, I regularly done as you have described for 12 years with very happy clients, if this was done by the Princess then good luck to her. She does not deserve the flack she has been given.

Michael W. Adler said...

Totally agree with you Jeff, much ado about nothing. I'd ascribe it to a slow news day except the chatter has lingered on and on. It would be of issue if something substantive were modified/manipulated, but the minor cosmetic changes, that you or any other professional photographer would have undertaken (albeit more professionally) is ridiculous.

Pody said...

I agree. It’s not like she replaced her head.

OnlyInCA said...

I totally agree with you. It's not like the modifications misrepresented the event. They did not add or remove a person. They appeared to be local cosmetic/aesthetic improvements to family/personal pictures. They were not taken by an editorial photographer for a news article in which case there would be no modifications or enhancements. Must have been a slow news day.

Michael Ball said...

I think it really depends on the perspective. From an art POV, no the editing isn't a big deal. The news comments are funny, but I don't think that's what people actually care about. The story seems to be a big deal because a photo was supposed to be used as evidence, and then it turns out the evidence was doctored. I also don't believe that the edits were disclosed, and whether or not you have an expectation of an image being highly modified depends a lot on the context.

Now, broadly, I do think people should better understand that all photos, even "unedited" are not a pure capture of the world. There is a lens, a tone curve applied by the sensor, the technical specs of the image and most importantly the photog's on POV/location that affect how that image will be interpreted. An image is one of many possible recordings of a moment in time. Whether that moment in time should be presented as real as possible, does seem to depend.

All respectable news outlets have standards for what can and can't be edited, or even how to crop. And we can imagine cases which are clearly wrong -- e.g. deliberately changing the meaning on the story, like cropping someone out to hide the fact they were at some location.

It's all content dependent. The local news most often shows anchors on some green screen with a nicely edited photo/movie as a background, which is supposed to look like real time, and sometimes is. But that's fine. No one really expects the anchors are sitting in the water with the bridge behind them. However, if they send a reporter out to do an on location weather report, I think we'd all be pretty disappointed if they altered the video to insert rain that didn't happen...

All that's to say, I don't really care about the royals or the situation, but I do understand why folks are bothered by it.

Dafri said...

People are just jealous of that beautiful family! Don’t we have better things to do with our lives ?

IanW said...

if they had told the public what her surgery was for then there would have been minimal outcry about the photo. Most people wouldn't notice anyway.

I suspect she has had part of her bowel removed hence the long recovery time. I cannot understand the secrecy, so called "royals" are as human as the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

There are so many people in the who are hungry because they can’t get food.

Anonymous said...

I live in the UK London and its no big deal with me

Anonymous said...

I think the issue is one of context. I absolutely agree that retouching is a normal part of the process for portraits. But this came at a time when she is undergoing mysterious health issues. And she isn’t just anyone. She and her advisors know full well that as her every move is under an electron microscope. Photos of her come much more under the realm of journalistic non-touching ethics than normal family portraits. The “Firm” is usually better at avoiding/controlling such issues. This was an own goal that could have easily been avoided.

David McKellar said...

Hi Jeff,

Well said. This is exactly what I’ve been saying since the day the photograph was published. At last I’ve found some one who agrees with me.

Kind regards


alexander said...

I think this would be no issue at all, if this was a family portrait issued to friends, family and social media only. Everybody expects these fotos to be retouched.

But the royal family issued this image officially as a press image to The Associated Press, Reuters, Getty Images & AFP; they had to pull the pic after the poor retouching surfaced and issue “kill notices” - media wise, this is playing out as if you would use generative fill on imagery of the olympics I guess ;)

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree! It's totally typical portrait photography retouching

Anonymous said...

David S said...

David S said:
Thank you Jeff. I appreciate your willingness to spend your valuable time on a topic that is over the heads of so many of those who can't seem to find something to contribute that's more productive.
It's greater than photography. It's about kindness, consideration and respect for another. Must we make another feel smaller in an attempt to appear large.
We would all be better served if we spend our time being the best we can be and be proud of it.
David S