ESPN published an article about African-American quarterback Michael Vick, posing the question “What if Michael Vick were white?” Though the content of the article itself was relatively non-controversial, ESPN received substantial criticism for publishing alongside the article a photo illustration depicting the athlete as a caucasian.
Though photo manipulation has become more common in the age of digital cameras and image editing software, it actually dates back almost as far as the invention of photography. Gathered below is an overview of some of the more notable instances of photo manipulation in history. For recent years, an exhaustive inventory of every photo manipulation would be nearly impossible, so we focus here on the instances that have been most controversial or notorious, or ones that raise the most interesting ethical questions.
We’ll continue to update this gallery as more incidents come to our attention, so if you come across any notable ones you think we should include, feel free to send us an e-mail at
[Click thumbnails to view complete images.]
During Hurricane Irene, a photo showing a shark swimming down a flooded Puerto Rican street began circulating online, and was picked up by several news outlets, including a Miami television station. Ultimately, it was determined that the photo was a hoax, and that the image of the shark most likely came from a 2005 photo from Africa Geographic that was available online.
Photographer Terje Hellesö won the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s Nature Photographer of the Year award for his stunning photos of endangered animals. Several of Hellesö’s photographs of the lynx, however, were digitally created by compositing stock photos into nature scenes. This photo manipulation was first noticed when conservationist Gunnar Gloerson noticed that one of Hellesö’s photos, taken in July, showed a lynx with a winter fur. When first questioned, Hellesö denied the allegations of photo tampering, but later admitted “not all of the pictures are manipulated, just a few of the lynx pictures.” Ultimately, the deception was found to be widespread, with more than 100 manipulated images of various subjects over a six-year period, as well as fabrication of stories about his photography.
The official photo of newly elected Canadian member of parliament (MP), Rathika Sitsabaiesan, was altered to remove her cleavage. The photo was retouched by a House of Commons photographer in what a spokesperson says is common practice. Communications spokesperson Heather Bradley did not say why the photo was retouched but confirmed that MPs approve their final photo.
The Philippine Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) posted on their Facebook page a photo of three senior officials inspecting a typhoon-ravaged Manila Bay. Although the officials did inspect the site, the three officials were digitally inserted into the posted photo. DPWH spokesperson said “It’s the fault of the photographer and not the officials, the officials had nothing to do with the fake photo … I have castigated the person and he is bound to be sanctioned. That’s high dishonesty. It should have not been done, its embarrassing to the DPWH.”
The National Organization for Marriage set up a website devoted to the repeal of gay marriage in New Hampshire, dressing it up with several composited crowd photos purportedly showing the groundswell of support for their cause. A gay blogger, however, soon noticed that at least two of the crowd photos were taken from Barack Obama campaign rallies in other states. NOM then removed the photos and replaced them with a photo of actual NOM supporters taken in New York.
Francisca Pol Cabrer, a conservative party candidate on the island of Mallorca in Spain, had to resign from her campaign after posting an inappropriate photo on her Facebook page. The doctored photo pictured Carme Chacon, the defense minister, revealing her chest at a meeting with defense officials. The photo carried the caption, “What a Socialist Party minister has to do to win votes.” [Note: The version of the photo attached here has been modified to obscure the nudity.]
Pakistani actress Veena Malik sued the India edition of men’s magazine FHM for $2 million in damages, claiming that they “morphed” her cover photo to make her appear to be posing nude. Kabeer Sharma, the editor of FHM India responded that “We have not photoshopped or faked the cover. This is what she looks like.” He suggested that she denied agreeing to the photos only because of the public backlash the cover generated.
Under pressure from the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in the U.S., Procter and Gamble pulled an advertising campaign for their NatureLuxe Mousse Mascara featuring singer Taylor Swift. The ads claimed that the mascara would provide “2X more volume” to lashes, but small print at the bottom of the ads admitted that the lashes were actually “enhanced in post-production” using image editing tools. “It is well established that product demonstrations in advertisements must be truthful and accurate and cannot be enhanced,” the NAD said. “Consequently, NAD appreciated the advertiser’s action, which NAD deemed necessary and proper.”