Who edited the Kate Middleton photo? All the mistakes, explained by a professional photographer.

All the reasons the doctored image doesn’t make sense, and the absurd reason it does.

A smiling woman surrounded by her three laughing children.

The photo from Kensington Palace that Kate Middleton admitted to editing. Kensington Palace Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Over the past few days, we’ve all come to learn that the only thing more suspicious than a missing princess is a poorly edited photo of that princess. All the worse if it’s accompanied by a note allegedly written by the MIA monarch herself, saying she casually dabbles in Adobe Photoshop and got lost in the moment.

“Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing,” Catherine “Kate” Middleton, a.k.a. the Princess of Wales, apparently wrote on social media Monday, personally apologizing for doctoring an official photo of herself with her children. The photo, posted for Mother’s Day in the UK, first drew attention from suspicious royal watchers online, whose doubts were confirmed when the AP issued a “photo kill” for the image, declaring it manipulated. “I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused.”

The photo, the apology, the cheeky opening line, the image of Kate fiddling around with layers and smudge tools on Photoshop — it’s enough to be a royal scandal on its own. Posting a photo that news outlets felt the need to kill — an occurrence that’s basically unheard of — felt like such a flub on the royal family’s part that it drew even more attention to the image.

But the thing is that Kate hasn’t been seen in public since reportedly undergoing abdominal surgery in January, and her disappearance from public view has created a massive conspiracy theory with speculations ranging from a more-serious-than-reported medical procedure to rumors about Prince William cheating to speculation about the succession plan and King Charles’s cancer diagnosis.

The photo of Kate and her kids was supposed to squash those rumors, but the poor editing has only drawn more attention to the situation and the idea that the royal family is covering something up.

What exactly is weird about the photo? What is the editing hiding? And aren’t there people who do this type of thing for the royal family?

In an attempt to find some clarity, I spoke with Adam Griffin, a Los Angeles-based professional photographer who has experience with retouching and capturing private events. We combed over the photograph and went through all of the flubs, from how strange Kate’s hair is to the wonky way shadows fall and patterns disappear, that make the image look like an amateur retouched it. And as Griffin points out, as strange and illogical as Kate’s apology is, it’s one of the only ways to make sense of this entire saga.

Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

There’s a bit of a Streisand effect going on, right? Or at least an unforced error. If there was no photo, the story would be that it’s been a long time since Kate has been photographed or seen in public. But now there’s this botched photo and it seems like a coverup.

It is 100 percent a Streisand effect situation because posting a photo that was that egregiously Photoshopped? Amateur sleuths were able to point out all of the flaws in it, get it trending, and it made all the gossip magazines and websites. It almost would have been better not to do anything and say something like “The Princess of Wales is still recovering from surgery, she’s choosing to stay out of the spotlight until she’s feeling well. But she’s wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day.”

That could have been fine, or even post an old photo — a photo of her with the kids with a message like that, saying that she’s spending the day with her kids but she’s choosing to stay out of the public light. It was completely an unforced error.

Adam, you sent me a diagram — a marked-up version of the original photo, noting the things that stand out to you as retouching. Can you tell me what you’re seeing here?

Who edited the Kate Middleton photo? All the mistakes, explained by a professional photographer.1

Photographer Adam Griffin marked the major editing bungles in Kate Middleton’s official photo. Kensington Palace/Adam Griffin

I wanted to do my own sleuthing. First off, that right hand [marked as A], for some reason, is out of focus and blurry. There’s no reason for that considering it’s a static photo. The only reason that a [real] photo would have any kind of blur to it would be if there was motion with a slower shutter speed, in which case something else would be blurred — it wouldn’t just be one hand.

Who edited the Kate Middleton photo? All the mistakes, explained by a professional photographer.2

Kate’s right hand should not be this blurry! Kensington Palace/Adam Griffin

Or it was something that was retouched and done poorly. One of the hallmarks of event photography is that you’re always capturing movement. There’s ways to capture movement at a certain shutter speed and above where you’re not going to have a hand moving that looks like that. It looks like she’s stroking Prince Louis’s side, but she’s clearly not doing that because she’s completely immobile everywhere else.

It’s also weird because everyone’s just sitting down and sitting still.

Everybody else is sitting down, nothing else is out of focus. Prince Louis is not out of focus, there’s nothing about his sweater that is showing the same kind of blurry movement. It’s just that area right around her hand, like the hand was put there.

If you go to B, that was the one that everybody picked up on right away. Princess Charlotte’s sweater — there’s a chunk of it missing. It’s clearly been clone-stamped to restitch that area where the Princess of Wales is holding on to her. Obviously, you also notice that Kate’s not wearing her wedding ring — and it’s a very noticeable wedding ring.

Who edited the Kate Middleton photo? All the mistakes, explained by a professional photographer.3

The triangle of space between Charlotte’s arm and her torso is extremely distorted! Kensington Palace/Adam Griffin

We all know the story of Princess Diana getting it, so for her wedding hand to be missing a giant sapphire ring, [that] itself would have been very weird. But the fact that it’s coupled with all the weird Photoshop retouching, it sent me down a rabbit hole again, even just trying to figure out if that was really her hand or somebody else that the kids were posing with.

Princess Charlotte’s wrist looks a bit weird, like it’s almost a little broken from all the photo manipulation happening.

You can see that there’s something else in the background. It’s not her tights. It almost looks like it’s the sleeve of the sweater that Kate is wearing with something else directly underneath it. There’s something else directly in that kind of triangle of space, and that’s also where a chunk of Charlotte’s sweater is missing. It just makes no sense.

Like I said, it did send me on a deep dive on the Princess of Wales’s hand just to make sure. It does look like it is her hand. So whatever weird Photoshop manipulation they did, I don’t think it’s a body double.

It’s weird that one hand — a hand that appears to be Kate’s real hand — is completely in focus but the other one isn’t. How does that happen?

One thing that I keep coming back to, because of how weirdly everybody’s transplanted into the photo, is that I think it seems like Kate’s in the photo with all three kids, but that it’s possible she’s not actually holding them. Her hands could have been Photoshopped in to make it seem like she was, and it’s more likely that the hand part is from something else.

The way that I’m constructing the photo in my head, and obviously this is unverified because I wasn’t there, it seems like they took an opportunity to take a photo to dispel the rumors surrounding Kate.

But maybe it wasn’t a flattering photo, and because she’s still recovering, she might not have actually been able to pose with the kids other than sitting in a chair and they tried to make it be more warm and comforting.

And maybe they put her hands around the kids and put a better “face” on Kate. I do think four people sat for this photo, in this location, wherever this is, outside. But it seems like everything about Kate other than her legs and what she’s wearing is Photoshopped in.

There’s a whole separate TikTok rumor that this is an old photo that got re-transplanted. But if you look at all of the ways the kids are sitting on the chair, and all the shadows under their feet and the way that their bodies are in a grouping, it all looks very natural, the shadows look very natural, that’s very hard to contrive to just place a subject into a new setting.

It almost sounds like a mystery. Four people sat for the photo, but something’s off and Kate and her face seems like … uncanny valley or something?

Who edited the Kate Middleton photo? All the mistakes, explained by a professional photographer.4

There’s something strange going on with Kate’s hair in C, and similarly, the texture of Charlotte’s sweater and hair changes in E. The zipper on Kate’s jacked is misaligned in D. Kensington Palace/Adam Griffin

C, D, and E are all the reasons this is not the face from the [actual] photo — it’s from a different photo of her, maybe an older one. Because her hair in C is extremely blurry and has no drop shadow behind it. For how close it is to George’s arm, it should have a much deeper shadow directly behind her hair.

Also, Kate Middleton has better hair than whatever is happening in this photo!

Much better! One of the qualities that we know about Kate is that she’s this very beautiful girl-next-door, natural-looking person. She has great hair.

One of the tells that Kate Middleton is pregnant is that her hair changes! This woman pays a lot of attention to how her hair looks at all times. It’s always perfect, and in the parts you’ve circled, it’s looking off.

Her hair is very strange there. And then if you go down to D, you can zoom in on it, you can see that the zipper of her jacket is misaligned. If you follow the line of her zipper all the way down to below where George’s hands are wrapped around her, it’s obviously a stitch of like how they put her head onto her neck.

And then E, the same thing: Something’s going on with Charlotte’s hair. It’s been erased. It’s just chopped off right there as it overlays with Kate’s hair and it makes no sense. You can even see the texture of the sweater, the edge of the red sweater that Charlotte’s wearing, it’s very blurry.

The texture of her sweater in E looks completely different. That print just stops.

It just stopped because they weren’t able to replicate it. Somebody very amateur was clone stamping [a Photoshop tool that copies one set of pixels and allows you to place them into another area] and heal tooling [a Photoshop tool that allows users to fix small imperfections] all the way up the arm to try to stitch in Charlotte superimposed on Kate. Like I said, it’s what makes me think that all these people posed for the photo or some iteration of this photo, but it wasn’t all four people posing exactly in this manner.

Can we talk about F? Louis’s sweater looks blurry and disjointed. It’s like what’s happening with Charlotte’s sweater. It doesn’t really make sense that the print would be that distorted.

Who edited the Kate Middleton photo? All the mistakes, explained by a professional photographer.5

The print of Louis’s sweater in F is distorted. Weird! Kensington Palace/Adam Griffin

Look at the prints and the beige parts [of Louis’s sweater], notice how there’s one single vertical line that runs through those kinds of curlicue heart shapes. There’s also two vertical strokes, and where the horizontal stroke moves through it, it’s not on the same level — it forms this weird extra shape that shouldn’t be there.

If you look at [Louis’s] opposite sleeve, it’s the exact same pattern. There’s no weird misalignment on the sleeve closest to George. And then moving down to G, this is like where it’s really noticeably Photoshopped. There’s something when they superimpose this portion of Louis that that circled area of the concrete slab that passes on has like a bump in it that shouldn’t be there. The white area of the doorframe or the wall is clearly not stitched in correctly because it’s not aligned.

Then the tile right next to Louis’s right foot has clearly been Photoshopped because you can see the duplicate of the tile.

Who edited the Kate Middleton photo? All the mistakes, explained by a professional photographer.6

It looks like someone tried to duplicate the tile near Louis’s foot. Look at how it repeats, but the texture and color is all distorted. Kensington Palace/Adam Griffin

The last thing I would say is if you were to zoom in really closely to everybody’s eyes, you can see that the catch light is in the same place on everybody’s eyes, but the one on Kate’s is slightly different. The one on Kate seems extremely crisp and small.

You mean where the light is hitting her in her eyeball?

Who edited the Kate Middleton photo? All the mistakes, explained by a professional photographer.7

Kate’s eyes in the photo are crisper and clearer than her children’s, which is a strange phenomenon to happen if they were all sitting there at the same time for the same photo. Kensington Palace/Adam Griffin

A catch light in somebody’s eye is that spot of white that makes it look like there’s a light in somebody’s eye. Photographers are very intentional with both daylight and artificial studio light with making sure that there is a natural-looking catch light. Kate’s catch light is very nice and very natural looking, but it doesn’t look like it’s the same shape or the same size as the kids. It makes me wonder if the whole face was Photoshopped in and or just her eyes are Photoshopped in.

Her eyes also look much crisper than George’s and everybody else’s. George’s you can’t even see, like there’s a lack of depth. Hers are very crystal clear, almost kind of creepy compared to her kids where the light is there, but it’s just less focused.

Right, and even if you were to go side to side and look at Charlotte’s eyes and then Louis’s eyes, you can see that there is a difference in the catch light. It creates this weird anomaly where it’s almost like all of them were photographed in the exact same spot and then stitched into one photo. But there are some noticeably missing shadows from some spots where you would assume if they were posing together, like Louis’s left arm holding on to the chair.

It could be that this is some kind of iteration of the actual photo — like maybe they took 12 different photos. Some had the kids all together, some didn’t. And maybe they just started grabbing elements. I don’t know. But whoever Photoshopped it did a very poor job.

I want to ask you about that. You’re an event photographer and retouching is part of your job. Regular people’s wedding photos are edited and retouched. This kind of bungle, hack job, mistake — whatever you want to call it — is almost unheard of when it comes to a celebrity releasing their own photos.

It is absurd on its face for the Princess of Wales, with the annual budgets that they have from the government and from all of their personal wealth, that she has to be Photoshopping her own photos for an official release on the Kensington Palace account.

The only reason I could think of that would back up what Kate was saying in that statement — that she’s the one who was messing around and editing it herself — is if they didn’t want to risk the chance of somebody else having access to the original photo and they didn’t want to go through the labor of an NDA and then possibly having it be leaked anyway because of all of the brouhaha with her being “missing.”

Just to spell it out, a possible absurd reason why these people didn’t use their loads of money, their photographers, and their endless amount of resources is that they didn’t want to risk an original photo of Kate getting leaked.

To release a photo that’s retouched like this, so poorly, wouldn’t really make sense to me as a professional photographer, unless they didn’t want somebody else to have access to the photos.

You would think that the royal family would have vetted the person that they would hire to do something like that and that they would have a shortlist of photographers and editors and contractors for hire that have signed NDAs that they have a long-standing relationship with.

That’s kind of like what Queen Elizabeth was known for. She had the same photographers at Windsor, she had the same photographers at Buckingham Palace, like when she was on tour and anywhere in her professional schedule. She had the same photographers she always worked with because they gave consistent results and let her have things to release to the public without having to go through the rigmarole of finding a new person and vetting them.

Well, like any celebrity who releases any photo has a team that’s taking and retouching photos for them and has those people signing NDAs. We would have so many more unflattering photos of celebrities if celebs weren’t strict about the people in charge of Photoshopping their photos.

From personal experience, I have done private events, and had to sign an NDA for where the photos don’t see the light of day. I’m not allowed to release any of them to the public. They got edited by me and sent directly by me to the client, along with the raw files in case they wanted to do their own editing later on. And I had to sign my life away, under penalty and multiple things.

Like there’s no way that Tree Paine is letting un-Photoshopped photos of Taylor Swift out into the world that are not approved. There’s not just random personal photos of Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift floating around.

You would imagine that the Princess of Wales, the soon-to-be queen, would have the same resources if not better, and have people at her disposal who have signed NDAs.

You know, Kate had abdominal surgery, and potentially a more significant surgery than they’re reporting. And I would imagine her recovery has been rough. There’s so many reasons why she would possibly look unflattering post-op. So I’m not surprised that they don’t want to show the original. But it might be such an unflattering original that they were willing to risk going the amateur route for releasing this image. But that they hired an amateur and paid them money for this? That is the most illogical explanation to me.

Maybe it was pro bono. Maybe they were trying to save money! You just want to believe that they’re much more competent than what actually happened.

I think that is kind of why it is fueling the rumors that much more because of all the people to have a flub like this, you would think it wouldn’t be the next in line to the royal throne. They have all the resources at their disposal and they don’t make missteps like that.

We’ve talked about the Streisand effect. How much harder is it going to be for Kate now? How much more scrutiny is the royal family going to be under because of this photo?

I think, short of Kate coming out and being seen actively in public life again — being photographed at a normal press event or being caught on video — it’s just throwing gasoline onto the fire. I’m sure it’ll die down eventually once it seems like everything is back to the status quo, but until then everyone’s going to be going over every photo coming from the royal family with a fine-tooth comb.

Sourse: vox.com

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