‘Multiple frames were likely used’: the royal photo’s telltale signs of editing | Catherine, Princess of Wales

The release of the first official picture of the Princess of Wales and her three children since her operation was undoubtedly meant to end speculation about her recovery. But that was backfired spectacularly after the princess was forced to admit she had edited it.

Catherine apologized on Monday after the manipulation of the picture led international picture agencies to refuse to distribute it on grounds of editorial standards.

PA Media, the UK’s largest agency and an important outlet for royal news, initially left the image on its picture service. On Monday morning, a spokesperson said: “Like other news agencies, PA Media issued the handout image provided by Kensington Palace of the Princess of Wales and her children in good faith yesterday.

“We became aware of concerns about the image and we carried a report about it last night, and made clear that we were seeking urgent clarification about the image from Kensington Palace. In the absence of that clarification, we are killing the image from our picture service.”

The Guardian imaging team has since conducted its own annotated analysis of the image and has found as many as 20 anomalies with the image that may require further inquiry.

David McCoy, the imaging manager at the Guardian, said: “The first step in analyzing this image is reading through the file’s embedded metadata to determine the photographic settings of the base camera image. In this case, we can see that a Canon 50mm f1.2 lens was used for this initial image, set to an aperture of f3.2, which will give moderately shallow depth of field.

“This leads me to believe that no one image would have had optimum sharpness across the required detail areas, so multiple frames were likely used to composite a more intended final result. Naturally, this also allows for idealized expressions from all members of the group.

“Once these technical photographic limitations of the image are determined, we can then zoom in as closely as possible to every edge of the subjects, in order to highlight where detail has been altered, knowing what should be sharp and what shouldn’t.

“As per the annotations, this reveals sharp transitions of detail, usually from hard edged selections [in the image editing programme Adobe Photoshop]which can be either straight or worked around curved areas of detail.

“It’s the juddering of straight-line detail that is the biggest telltale sign of multiple frames being composited together. This can be seen extensively around the hair, arms, and especially at the zip midway down the princess’s jacket. Seeing repetition of detail in the finer areas also reveals the likely use of the cloning tool in Photoshop.

“The other two main offenders are the hands and knees of Princess Charlotte, with the now famous hand mismatching her jumper sleeve, and her knees slipping out of focus too readily compared to the expected depth-of-field sharpness.”

Royal photo – signs of digital alteration

20 anomalies

The Guardian imaging team has identified 20 potential issues with the photograph:

1. Jumper cuff does not match wrist edge.
2. Blurred edge detail jolts from one line to another.
3. Definitely inconsistent detail at base of jumper.
4. Strong horizontal line running through hair and jacket zip, indicating different focus and detail.
5. Visible selection lines within lower hair areas.
6. Edge of knee detail potentially blurs too quickly for the depth of field.
7. Suspect/soft bend of hair leading to the shoulder.
8. Abrupt hair detail.
9. Cloning repetition details.
10. Visible selection lines and hard edges with the hair interacting with the soft blue jumper.
11. Rogue cloning details.
12. Suspect vertical detail transitioning at edge of red jumper.
13. Sharp horizontal line running through soft window frame detail.
14. Sharp horizontal and vertical patches on window pane.
15. Inside finger “V” edge does not match.
16. Visible selection lines and hard edges with the hair interacting with the soft blue jumper.
17. Rogue sharp detail on soft arm area.
18. Ambiguous edge detail above thumbnail.
19. Sharp vertical line running through soft jumper detail.
20. Ambiguous due to shallow depth of field, hand and jumper detail softer than immediately surrounding areas.