This digital composite of Olympic ice skaters Tanya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan appeared on the cover of New York Newsday. The picture showed the rivals practicing together, shortly after an attack on Kerrigan by an associate of Harding’s husband. The picture caption reads: “Tonya Harding, left, and Nancy Kerrigan, appear to skate together in this New York Newsday composite illustration. Tomorrow, they’ll really take to the ice together.”
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.]
This digitally altered photograph of OJ Simpson appeared on the cover of Time magazine shortly after Simpson’s arrest for murder. This photograph was manipulated from the original mug-shot that appeared, unaltered, on the cover of Newsweek. Time magazine was subsequently accused of manipulating the photograph to make Simpson appear “darker” and “menacing”.
This digitally altered photograph of Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine shortly after Bobbi gave birth to septuplets. This photograph was manipulated from the original that appeared, unaltered, on the cover of Time magazine. Newsweek manipulated the photograph to make Bobbi’s teeth straighter, and were accused of trying to make her “more attractive”.
Hoping to illustrate its diverse enrollment, the University of Wisconsin at Madison doctored a photograph on a brochure cover by digitally inserting a black student in a crowd of white football fans. The original photograph of white fans was taken in 1993. The additional black student, senior Diallo Shabazz, was taken in 1994. University officials said that they spent the summer looking for pictures that would show the school’s diversity — but had no luck.
The CBS emblem in this single frame of a live video broadcast, was digitally inserted during the new year’s eve broadcast so as to conceal the NBC emblem that was on display in the background. The technology used in this case, is the same as that widely employed during the broadcast of sporting events to display advertisements on billboards.
The 1996 Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA) extended the existing federal criminal laws against child pornography to include certain types of “virtual porn”. In 2002, hearing Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, the United States Supreme Court found that portions of the CPPA, being overly broad and restrictive, violated First Amendment rights. The Court ruled that images containing an actual minor or portions of a minor are not protected, while computer-generated images depicting a fictitious minor are constitutionally protected.
The cover of GQ magazine featured a digitally slimmed photo of actress Kate Winslet. Winslet said that the retouching was “excessive.” “I don’t look like that and more importantly I don’t desire to look like that. I can tell you that they’ve reduced the size of my legs by about a third,” said Winslet.
The original copy of the Beatles Abbey Road album cover shows Paul McCartney, third in line, holding a cigarette. United States poster companies have airbrushed this image to remove the cigarette from McCartney’s hand. This change was made without the permission of either McCartney or Apple Records, which owns the rights to the image. “We have never agreed to anything like this,” said an Apple spokesman. “It seems these poster companies got a little carried away. They shouldn’t have done what they have, but there isn’t much we can do about it now.”
A digital composite of a British soldier in Basra, gesturing to Iraqi civilians urging them to seek cover, appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times shortly after the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. Brian Walski, a staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times and a 30-year veteran of the news business, was fired after his editors discovered that he had combined two of his photographs to “improve” the composition.