Another doctored royal photo? Getty flags 'digitally enhanced' pic of Queen Elizabeth

In this photo provided by Kensington Palace last year, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II poses for a photo in Balmoral, Scotland, with some of her grandchildren and great grandchildren in 2022. Last week,  Getty Images added an editor's note to the photo, warning that it was 'digitally enhanced at the source.' (Princess of Wales/Kensington Palace/The Associated Press - image credit)

Just how much can the public trust images released by the Royal Family? That's the question as another photo released by the Prince and Princess of Wales has been flagged by a global image agency as being "digitally enhanced at the source."

This comes just over a week after several major news agencies pulled a Mother's Day photo of Catherine with her children just hours after publishing it, citing concerns about digital manipulation. The retractions sent the online rumour mill, already rampant with speculation over Catherine's recent operation and recuperation, into overdrive. News agency AFP later said Kensington Palace is no longer a trusted news source.

Now, Getty Images is reviewing a photo of Queen Elizabeth II and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren taken in 2022 and released last year. An editor's note recently added to the photo on the site says it "has been digitally enhanced at the source."

"Getty Images is undertaking a review of handout images and in accordance with its editorial policy is placing an editor's note on images where the source has suggested they could be digitally enhanced," a Getty images spokesperson told CBC News Tuesday.

The spokesperson clarified the statement only applies to handouts from the palace.

A Reuters spokesperson told CBC News Tuesday that the news agency is also updating its procedures related to vetting images from Kensington Palace "following a second altered photograph being found."

"Reuters requires that photos meet its editorial standards for image quality, accuracy and reliability."

The image in question was released on April 21 last year, on what would have been Queen Elizabeth's 97th birthday. A caption on the Prince and Princess of Wales's Instagram account says the photo was taken at Balmoral the previous summer.

Some of the discrepancies flagged by the Guardian Tuesday include "a vertical line where the tartan of the late queen's skirt does not match, a dark shadow behind Prince Louis's ear and a similar small black patch behind Prince George's shirt collar."

CBC News has reached out to The Associated Press to ask whether they're also reviewing the image, or any others released by the Royal Family. They have yet to respond.

'A longer trend of making changes'

The Mother's Day photo controversy resulted in increased scrutiny by the press and public of other photos released by William and Catherine in recent years, Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris told CBC News.

"There is interest in whether this only happened once or if there is a longer trend of making changes to photographs that are posted on social media and released to the press," Harris said.

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Robert Finch, the dominion chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada, told CBC News that it's not necessarily surprising the Royal Family edits its own images, but he understands why the public might think so.

"Most of us would simply expect that to be done by a professional team, but here you have the Princess of Wales editing a picture of herself and children taken by her husband or a picture taken and edited by the Princess of Wales of the late Queen and her grandchildren. I'm sure that's surprised people," Finch said.

Online, where rumours have been swirling about the health of Catherine since Jan. 17, when Kensington Palace announced Catherine's planned abdominal surgery, some people said the damage done with this new photo is irreparable.

"The Royal Family credibility is gone," one person wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

"Trust in the royal family and institution won't be restored even if/when Kate reappears looking normal. There are too many things that don't add up," wrote another person.

"Trust in our institutions, whether the police, the church, charities or the Royal Family, is already being regularly undermined, but now so is our ability to be convinced once the truth does come out," wrote The Observer on Sunday, adding that the photo edits are "rippling out to create fresh waves of public doubt."

Online distrust continues

That public doubt is evident in social media responses to a video published Monday by British newspaper the Sun that purports to show Prince William walking with a "happy and healthy" Catherine.

In the video, which the Sun said was filmed on Saturday, a smiling person it identifies as Catherine is seen, casually dressed, walking and carrying shopping bags apparently alongside her husband at a farm shop in Windsor, near to their home.

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Kensington Palace had no comment on the video. Catherine's spokesperson has said she was recovering well but was not expected to return to official duties until after Easter, which falls on March 31.

Online, many people questioned whether the people in the video were really William and Catherine, with some pointing to what they see as a height discrepancy, others saying it's a Catherine "lookalike," and some pointing to supposed Christmas decor in the background as evidence the video wasn't actually taken recently.

'Interested in shaping their own public image'

Harris notes that Catherine has had a longstanding interest in photography, having studied it at St. Andrew's University. She also notes that William and Catherine are protective of their own privacy, that of their children, "and are interested in shaping their own public image."

This may be behind the decision to edit their photographs, Harris said.

Eddie Mulholland/Pool/AFP/Getty Images
Eddie Mulholland/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

That said, once Catherine is fully recovered from abdominal surgery, the couple will need to be seen in a full schedule of public engagements to help the rumours about her disappearance fade away, she added.

"The late Queen Elizabeth II reputedly stated, 'I have to be seen to be believed' and that remains the case for the younger generations of the royal family,"  Harris said.

"Also, it's important for professional photographers to document key moments in the lives of the royal family to bring an outside perspective to their public image."

But Finch says he thinks, in the grand scheme of things, this latest photo debacle won't have much of an impact on the Royal Family.

"I suspect once the Princess of Wales is back in action all of this will be forgotten anyhow."