After several years of discussion by many countries about the issues surrounding excessive image retouching and body image, Israel became the first country to require advertisements to disclose when digital manipulation has been used to make a model appear thinner. The editing disclosures are actually just part of this new law, which also sets minimum body mass index (BMI) measurements for models to ensure that no underweight models are used in advertisements. The goal is for all Israeli advertisements to promote more realistic body proportions.
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.]
Performance car company Shelby America had to apologize for manipulated photos that were accidentally distributed as part of their press kit for their new Shelby 1000 model. The photos depicted the car with its two front wheels in the air as if propelled into a wheelie by tremendous power to the rear wheels. Shelby claimed that the photos were originally manipulated just “for fun” as motivation for the team working on building the car.
The Russian Orthodox church was forced to apologize for a manipulated photo of their leader, Patriarch Kirill I, which was posted on their website. In the posted photo, they had eliminated a $30,000 Breguet watch from the patriarch’s wrist, but a reflection of the watch was still visible in the table upon which his arm was resting. Initially, the patriarch denied that he had ever worn the watch, and insisted that any photo showing it on his wrist had been doctored. Later, though, the church put the original image including the watch on its website, along with a statement that “a gross violation of our internal ethics has occurred, and it will be thoroughly investigated. The guilty will be severely punished.”
The managing editor of the Miami Herald demanded that Florida Governor Rick Scott remove a photo from his Facebook page, because it depicted the front page of the newspaper with a doctored headline. The image was intended to promote an editorial written by the Governor with the headline “New Law Helps Put Floridians Back to Work.” However, the real newspaper featured no mention of the editorial on the front page. In fact, someone on the Governor’s social media team had replaced one of the original headlines on an older issue of the newspaper, but had neglected to remove the byline reading “Guatemala City.”
High-fashion model Coco Rocha publicly complained about a magazine cover that she said violated her standards as well as her contract. Said Ms. Rocha, “For my recent Elle Brazil cover shoot I wore a body suit under a sheer dress, but recently discovered that the body suit was Photoshopped out to give the impression that I am showing much more skin than I actually was or am comfortable with.”
One of the more notorious occurrences of photo tampering in recent history took on new life four years later. Someone from Iran’s semi-official Mehr News apparently used an online image search to find a suitable photo to illustrate a headline saying that Iran’s missile program was no threat to the U.S. and Europe. However, the image that was chosen was a parody of Iran’s official doctored photo of a missile launch from 2008. One of many images from the meme inspired by the original photo, this version features an absurd number of missiles, as well as a waving Jar Jar Binks, from the Star Wars prequel.
Perhaps aiming to make the June 2011 work by other Chinese officials look reasonable in comparison, the government in Yuhang District published a photo promoting a recent landscaping project in which officials appear to levitate over the scene—some with their legs only partially cloned in.
After being questioned by an online reader, the Chicago Tribune published an explanation for a 1955 photo of former Mayor Richard J. Daley that appeared in their Almanac section featuring photos from their archives. The reader noticed what appeared to be the line of a felt-tip marker highlighting the edge of the mayor’s hand. The newspaper explained that this line was Spotone ink which was applied to enhance contrast to the image in preparation for print production—which in those days could not reproduce photos with as much detail. Because the newspaper no longer had the original negative, they reproduced the version that had been retouched in the 1950’s. Though such retouching was standard practice in 1955, the fact that it seemed so obviously inappropriate in 2012 illustrates that ethical standards necessarily shift as technology evolves.
A dispute arose between two competing mountaineering teams in India who each claimed that the other team failed to summit Everest as claimed. Both groups submitted photos to support their claims, but a spokesman for the Everest Summit Association Sherpas claimed that the photos from one of the groups, Sagarmatha Giryarohan Sanstha, had been “photoshopped.” According to one of the sherpas, only one of the leaders of the Sanstha team made it to the summit, not all three leaders as claimed. The government initiated an investigation into the incident to determine the truth.
After months of pressure from a campaign led by teenager Julia Bluhm to cease unrealistic retouching of models, Seventeen Magazine signed an eight-point pact promising to “never change girls’ body or face shapes” and to feature “only real girls and models who are healthy.” The anti-retouching campaign was driven by a belief that unrealistic depictions of girls in the media leads to poor body image and eating disorders.