A magistrate in Sydney, Australia threw out a speeding case after the police said it had no evidence that an image from an automatic speed camera had not been doctored. This case revolved around the integrity of MD5, a digital signature algorithm, intended to prove that pictures have not been doctored after their recording. It is believed that this ruling may allow any driver caught by a speed camera to mount the same defense.
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.]
A photo, taken of U.S. President George W. Bush as he sat in a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, shows Bush scribbling a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reading, “I think I may need a bathroom break. Is this possible?” Reuters’ picture editor, Gary Hershorn, explained that sections of the photo were overexposed so a Reuters’ processor used the Photoshop technique to “burn down the note.” Hershorn says that the photo was not manipulated in any way, but that it was standard practice for such news photos to be enhanced.
A doctored photo of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared alongside a USA Today news story about Rice’s comments to U.S. Lawmakers regarding U.S. Troops in Iraq. After receiving complaints from readers, the photograph was removed from USA Today’s website, and the following Editor’s note appeared alongside a “properly adjusted copy”: “Photos published online are routinely cropped for size and adjusted for brightness and sharpness to optimize their appearance. In this case, after sharpening the photo for clarity, the editor brightened a portion of Rice’s face, giving her eyes an unnatural appearance. This resulted in a distortion of the original not in keeping with our editorial standards.”
A digitally altered image of illustrator Clement Hurd appeared in a newly revised edition of the book “Goodnight Moon”, a classic children’s book written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Hurd. The publisher, HarperCollins, altered the original photograph to remove a cigarette from Hurd’s hand. HarperCollins said it made the change to avoid the appearance of encouraging smoking and did so with the permission of the illustrator’s estate. But Mr. Hurd’s son said he felt pressured to allow it. Prior to this latest edition, the photograph of Mr. Hurd grasping a cigarette has been on the book for at least two decades.
A political video produced by the Republican National Committee (RNC) depicts a U.S. solider watching a television where Democratic leaders are speaking critically of the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq. The final screen shot, shown to the right, reads “Our soldiers are watching and our enemies are too.” As shown in the original frame, this video was digitally altered—the solider was watching the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
In 2004, Professor Hwang Woo-Suk and colleagues published what appeared to be ground-breaking advances in stem cell research. This paper appeared in one of the most prestigious scientific journals, Science. Evidence slowly emerged that these results were manipulated and/or fabricated. After months of controversy, Hwang retracted the Science paper and resigned his position at the University. An independent Korean panel investigating the accusations of fraud found, in part, that at least nine of the eleven customized stem cell colonies that Hwang had claimed to have made were fakes. Much of the evidence for those nine colonies, the panel said, involved doctored photographs of two other, authentic, colonies.
In 2001, Dr. Jon Sudbo of the Norwegian Radium Hospital in Oslo published a study, in the prestigious journal Lancet, contending that long-term use of certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reduced the risk of oral cancer. This finding was touted as a way to shift the focus of treatment away from surgery and toward new drug therapies. These results were cast into doubt when it was revealed that 250 of Sudbo’s sample of 908 people in that study all shared the same birthday. In addition, it was revealed that two photographs from a microscope, reportedly representing two different patients at different stages of precancerous mouth lesions, were different magnifications of the same image. The editors of Lancet issued an “expression of concern” saying Sudbo’s research was “just complete fabrication.”
Famed Indian movie star Khushboo took legal action against the publishers of Maxim magazine for the publication of a doctored photograph. The photograph was created by digitally splicing Khushboo’s head onto another model’s scantily clad body. This photograph was published in the Indian version of Maxim under the heading “Women you will never see in Maxim - 100% fake”. Magazine editor, Sunil Mehra, said “We are deeply apologetic for causing any inadvertent hurt and offence to Khushboo.” Said Khushboo, “Indeed the punishment that is finally meted out to them should be a deterrent against anyone who tries to treat women as a commodity and exploit them as they please. I will not opt for any kind of out-of-court settlement,” she said.
The San Antonio Observer ran a cover story featuring a San Antonio police officer wearing a white hood of the Ku Klux Klan. The newspaper admitted that they digitally inserted the hood and gun into the original photograph. Police spokesman Joe Rios said that the Observer defamed the character of the officer in the photograph. “You can clearly read his badge number,” Rios said. “I can tell you that the officer who was depicted in that picture is very upset.” Ida Brown, an Observer spokeswoman, disputed that the officer’s badge number could be discerned on the cover and said the image was not intended as a personal attack. “Primarily, the picture shows that there are racist police officers on the force, and they do target minorities who are innocent,” Brown said.