'Suspicious' Kate Middleton portrait branded 'very risky' after global kill notice

The world's leading photo agencies recalled the Instagram portrait of Kate and her children after it was found to have been digitally manipulated.

An Australian visual communication expert has labelled a digitally "manipulated" portrait of Kate Middleton "very suspicious" and "very risky", following an extraordinary recall of the image by the world's biggest photo agencies after it was found to have been doctored.

On Monday, just under 12 hours after the photo of the Princess of Wales and her three children — George, Charlotte and Louis — was posted to Instagram, global photo agencies Associated Press, Getty and AFP, which provide images to media outlets including Yahoo, recalled it, issuing a "kill notice" to news outlets.

"The Associated Press initially published the photo, which was issued by Kensington Palace," an AP spokesperson told Yahoo. "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."

A photo of Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales, and her family with flaws highlighted in red after the image was thought to be altered.
An Australian photo expert has pointed out the 'obvious' flaws in this image of Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales. Source: Supplied / TJ Thomson

Royal pic 'not a particularly good Photoshop job'

The photo is the first officially released portrait of the princess in months and comes amid intense speculation over her whereabouts, following a notable absence from appearances and media since she underwent abdominal surgery in January.

Experts said there are a number of "obvious" flaws in the touch-up job, and it's difficult to tell if the portrait, posted to the Prince and Princess of Wales' official Instagram account, is even recent.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, TJ Thomson, visual media and communication expert at RMIT University, said "it wasn't a particularly good Photoshop job" and "there is very little" we can do to determine when it was actually taken. "It does seem very, very suspicious, and very, very risky," Thomson told Yahoo.

"It has been picked up quite easily, quite quickly, within 12 hours or so, and it is really easy in Photoshop to just kind of face swap someone else's head onto someone else's body.

"It's probably more or less real, there could be a little bit of airbrushing, a little bit of smoothing, teeth whitening — that kind of thing, I think the basic components probably are accurate. But it's just a matter of if they are all accurate at the same point in time, at that same location that the photo is claiming it is."

'Very hard' to determine when photo was taken

Without having the original image "to look at and forensically analyse" it's really "anyone's guess whether it depicts what they're claiming it depicts, or not", Thomson explained, meaning there's no way to really tell when it was taken or what components of the image are 100 per cent authentic.

An apparently manipulated section of the portrait of Princess Charlotte where her hand does not meet up with her sleeve.
The photo of the princess and her three children was recalled by leading photo agencies AP and Getty. Source: Supplied / TJ Thomson
An Australian photo expert has pointed out the 'obvious' flaws in this image of Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales.
Visual communication expert TJ Thompson branded the alterations 'suspicious' and 'very risky'. Source: Supplied / TJ Thomson

"It could be that something just wasn't as flattering as they wanted it to be in the image. They want to have a really kind of carefully curated, nice presentation with the family, in perfect light, that kind of thing, or, could be something more insidious," he said.

"But there are very little ways we can be sure to be honest [if the picture was taken recently]. I tried to do a reverse image search of the photo to see if there were older photos of a similar nature, and I couldn't find any. But that doesn't mean there aren't any, it just means it's not any publicly out there online already."

Kensington Palace, the royal couple's official residence, has remained silent on the awkward controversy, reportedly declining to issue a statement to British media.

Multiple processes in place to verify images in global outlets

Thomson said anyone with eyes would be able to be immediately notice some of the alterations "just from looking at it".

"The cuff of Princess Charlotte's left sleeve, you can see with the naked eye that something's off with that, it kind of dissolves midway into thin air," he said. "You can also see with naked vision that Princess Kate's right arm, or the right hand, fingers already are quite unnaturally blurred and same thing with her hair on the right side of her head, also quite blurred compared to the left side of her head."

There are multiple processes in place when it comes to verification within photo agencies, with images analysed and interpreted by different types of software.

"I would anticipate that folks either at AP or colleagues in other newsrooms are probably looking at social media and looking at comments," Thomson said. "And probably someone noticed that anomaly and mentioned it, and then they probably looked at it closely themselves.. and then issued the kill notice."

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