Kate Middleton's Mother's Day photo: AI, manipulation and believing what you see

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
The decision by press agencies to withdraw a Mother's Day photograph of Kate Middleton is a line drawn in the sand.

Whether what is known as 'AI' technology was involved or not, the furore over a manipulated photo of Kate Middleton may well be an important moment as the world grapples with new challenges around truth and accuracy.

The story isn't really about the Royal Family, it's about how we can trust what we see in 2024.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Four news agencies - Getty Images, AFP, Reuters and Associated Press - pulled what at first seemed to be an innocent and joyful Mother's Day image of Catherine, Princess of Wales, with her children, princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte.

The picture, published on Sunday morning by the couple's official X account, was taken by William, Prince of Wales.

It attracted widespread interest following speculation over Kate's wellbeing after undergoing abdominal surgery in February. The four figures can be seen grinning at the camera, but suspicion quickly arose as people noticed errors in the image suggesting that it had been manipulated, or even AI generated. Princess Charlotte's wrist appears disjointed and Prince Louis' fingers are in a bizarre formation. Kate's wedding ring on her left hand is missing and there is an unusual blurriness to her right hand as it grips Prince Louis' waist.

Even the perfect, eyes-open smiles suggest some form of manipulation.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Princess of Wales has since posted an apology 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"

UK-based news agency PA said that it had not issued a 'kill order' on the picture but was seeking urgent clarification from the palace.

The other agencies removed the photo on Sunday, with a statement from Associated Press reading: "Mandatory kill. Due to an editorial issue this photo by the Prince of Wales has been withdrawn... and may no longer be used in any manner. Please immediately remove it from all your online services, stop using it in any other fashion and delete it from your servers."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Catherine, Princess of Wales with her children Louis, George and Charlotte in an image released for Mother's Day 2024. (Photo by @KensingtonRoyal)Catherine, Princess of Wales with her children Louis, George and Charlotte in an image released for Mother's Day 2024. (Photo by @KensingtonRoyal)
Catherine, Princess of Wales with her children Louis, George and Charlotte in an image released for Mother's Day 2024. (Photo by @KensingtonRoyal)

Royal photographer Ian Lloyd told BBC Breakfast that editing of photos was "not unusual", saying: "It has gone on in photography, and royal photography particularly, since the dawn of photography."

He pointed to the Prince and Princess of Wales' Christmas card photo, released in December 2023, where Prince Louis "apparently had a finger missing" and there was "an extra leg".

Whatever the situation in royal circles, while news organisations have long accepted minor changes to images, such as in tone and colour, the decision to withdraw a photograph issued by the Royal Family indicates a line being drawn in the sand by agencies.

The explosion of AI technology means that the use of 'deep fakes' is already widespread on social media. Their use is already having an impact as elections approach around the world, including in the UK and the US.

The decision by the news agency to withdraw the photo represents a welcome cautious approach to the credibility of images.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.