New Orleans Mayoral Candidate Kimberly Williamson Butler digitally inserted herself into a photograph of what appeared to be the French Quarter in New Orleans. The setting, however, was the New Orleans Square at Disneyland. This photo was then manipulated again to remove a Disneyland trash can from the background.
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 photograph, showing two police officers standing by as prostitutes in Cuba hail a foreign tourist, appeared in the El Nuevo Herald under the headline “Hookers: The Sad Meat of the American Dollar”. This image, however, was a composite of two separate photographs taken by veteran photographer Roberto Koltun, and published over his objections. “Two things were put together,” commented photo coordinator Orlando Mellado. Asked why the photograph was published, Mellado responded “that’s a decision that was made by another editor.”
A controversial ad appeared as part of the Ohio Senate campaign between incumbent Mike DeWine (R) and challenger Sherrod Brown (D). DeWine’s campaign created a video of the World Trade Center in flames to attack Brown as soft on terrorism. The ad shows the south tower burning; however, the north tower was hit first, so the south tower could not be burning without the north tower burning as well. A DeWine spokesman acknowledged the image was a “graphic representation” by the firm that produced the ad, which used a still photo of the towers with computer-generated smoke added.
The Charlotte Observer fired Patrick Schneider, a staff photographer, for altering an image of a fire fighter. Following the incident, the paper released the following statement: “Photographer Patrick Schneider’s photo depicted a Charlotte firefighter on a ladder, silhouetted by the light of the early morning sun. In the original photo, the sky in the photo was brownish-gray. Enhanced with photo-editing software, the sky became a deep red and the sun took on a more distinct halo. The Observer’s photo policy states: No colors will be altered from the original scene photographed.” Schneider said that he only meant to restore the actual color of the sky that was lost when he underexposed the photo. Schneider was suspended in an earlier episode after it was revealed that his award-winning photographs had been manipulated. Scheider allowed this case to be used to educate other professional photographers in ethics seminars. At the time he pledged, “I will no longer tone my background down that far.”
A photograph by Adnan Hajj, a Lebanese photographer, showed thick black smoke rising above buildings in the Lebanese capital after an Israeli air raid. The Reuters news agency initially published this photograph on their web site and then withdrew it when it became evident that the original image had been manipulated to show more and darker smoke. “Hajj has denied deliberately attempting to manipulate the image, saying that he was trying to remove dust marks and that he made mistakes due to the bad lighting conditions he was working under”, said Moira Whittle, the head of public relations for Reuters. “This represents a serious breach of Reuters’ standards and we shall not be accepting or using pictures taken by him.” A second photograph by Hajj was also determined to have been doctored.
An Easton, Middlesbrough (UK) man, Stafford Sven Tudor-Miles, scanned photographs of adult porn stars into his computer and digitally altered them so that the women appeared to be of girls under the age of 18. The 38-year-old fine art student was charged with possessing indecent pseudo-images of children. His barrister argued that the pictures were of adults and, therefore, no offense had been committed. Under the Protection of Children Act 1978, as amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, a pseudophotograph of a child is defined as an image, whether made by computer graphics or otherwise, which appears to be that of a child. Unlike in the United States, where child pornography must involve actual children to be considered illegal, possession or creation of such an image in the UK is illegal. Tudor-Miles pleaded guilty to five counts of attempting to make indecent pseudo-photographs of children, one charge of possessing indecent pseudo-photographs and one of breaching a sex offenders order.
A photograph of CBS news anchor Katie Couric was digitally altered from the original to give Couric a trimmer waistline and a thinner face. This photo appeared in CBS’ in-house magazine Watch! CBS spokesman, Gil Schwartz, said “the doctored image was the work of a CBS photo department employee who got a little zealous”. Schwartz added, “I talked to my photo department; we had a discussion about it; I think photo understands this is not something we’d do in the future.”
The Dubliner apologized for a story depicting the wife of famed golfer Tiger Woods in doctored pornographic images. The article read, in part, “Most American golfers are married to women who cannot keep their clothes on in public. Is it too much to ask that they leave them at home for the Ryder Cup? Consider the evidence - Tiger Woods’ wife Elin Nordegren can be found in a variety of sweaty poses on porn sites across the Web.”. After Woods publicly denounced the story, the magazine apologized: “The publisher and staff acknowledge that the satirical article was inappropriate. We wish to sincerely apologise to Tiger Woods, his wife Elin Nordegren and other Ryder Cup players and their families for any offence they may have taken to it. The article was written as a satirical piece and, in the context of the entire article, the publishers believed the readers would not be left with the impression that there was any truth in the assertions, it being an absurd parody of inaccurate tabloid publishing generally. If any contrary impression was given it certainly was not intended and for this the publishers unreservedly apologise”
An Ohio Republican Party news release attacked Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown for enlisting the support of comedian Al Franken. The news release was accompanied by a photograph, showing Franken dressed up like a baby bunny, wearing adult diapers and clutching a fluffy white teddy bear. Andy Barr, director of Franken’s Midwest Values PAC, confirmed, “The picture is a fake.” The Ohio Republican Party used a 2004 photo of Franken for the doctored image. This photograph then resurfaced again in July 2009, shortly after Senator Al Franken was seated in the U.S. Senate. Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson re-published the doctored photo under the heading “Is this who you want making decisions about your health care?” In his retraction, Bronson wrote “Last week I posted a blog about comedian Al Franken joining the Senate, including a picture of Franken wearing bunny ears and a diaper. Franken did many things on Saturday Night Live that could be embarrassing to a Senator. But apparently, that was not one of them. It turns out the picture was photoshopped. We don’t knowingly run false pictures, so I took it down and replaced it with another goofy picture of Sen. Franken.”
The campaign of Tung Nguyen (second from left) for Orange County Supervisor doctored a photo placing Nguyen close to Governor Schwarzenegger. The photo appeared in two Vietnamese-language daily newspapers. Although Nguyen attended the event with Schwarzenegger, he was not standing next to him. Instead, Nguyen’s head was spliced onto another person’s body. Nguyen’s campaign first blamed the alteration on an advertising company and then on a campaign volunteer.