As the ‘Mothers Day-gate’ fiasco shows, spontaneity is often best in portrait photography – and if you’re going to edit an image, do it properly, says Geoff Harris

As I write this, the furore over the Princess of Wales’ Mothers Day photo still dominates the headlines. To recap: Kate, Princess of Wales, has fessed-up to editing an image taken of herself and her three children, released to mark Mothers Day and her recent discharge from hospital.

Nothing particularly newsworthy there, you’d think, except it was not edited at all well, prompting major press agencies to pull it from circulation due to obvious manipulation. To add to the embarrassment, the image was taken by the future King.

Princess of Wales
Lots of issues can be seen around Princess Charlotte’s inclusion in the image, in particular. Credit: The Prince of Wales

A right royal PR disaster

The story has gone off like a firework, and what should have been a happy family shot has ended up feeding lots of conspiracy theories about the real state of her health. Even the Daily Mail, usually cheerleaders for the Wales family in its interminable feud with Harry and Meghan, thundered ‘The Palace Can No Longer Be Trusted.’

The Sun, meanwhile, reports that the Princess is ‘very sad, just wanting the picture to be perfect.’ This is the problem in a nutshell. Whoever edited the image – the Princess so far is taking sole responsibility – lacked the skills to create the ‘perfect’ shot.

While nobody has access to the original images outside Kensington Place, it appears Princess Charlotte may have been added to the final picture released to the press, and not very smoothly. Given the intense scrutiny this picture was bound to receive, it was only matter of time before such ham-fisted image blending was revealed.

Press and picture agencies are also hyper-vigilant at the moment for AI or heavily altered images, so the royals have been caught in a perfect storm.

Lessons from Mothers Day-gate: keep it simple

Ironically, a spontaneous phone snap of the Princess with the kids, while not technically perfect, would have avoided all this upset. There is nothing at all wrong with editing images – long before digital, film images were tweaked in the darkroom – but being too much of a control freak or perfectionist in photography can backfire badly. That is the first lesson. The second is that if you are going to work up a picture in this way, get an expert to do it.

All this said, I feel very sorry for the Princess. She does a lot to promote photography, being a patron of the RPS, and to see self-proclaimed Photoshop/AI experts and conspiracy theorists rip this still-charming image apart like wild dogs is a sorry sight.

The Princess of Wales photo
© The Princess of Wales. Steven Frank, aged 84, with his granddaughters Maggie and Trixie. Steven survived multiple concentration camps as a child.

The Princess is a perfectly competent photographer, and it would be very sad if this fiasco puts her off sharing her pictures, or makes her feel she should resign her RPS patronage. And let’s get things in perspective. She’s not flogged off the family silver, and in the long list of royal misdemeanours throughout history, this is a non-story.

Still, this latest controversy also marks another milestone in the royal family’s painful relationship with photography. This spans the tragic – Princess Diana hounded to her death by paparazzi – to the comical, with the late Prince Phillip telling a photographer to ‘just take the ****ing picture!’ during a particularly grouchy photoshoot.

Princess of Wales Mothers Day photo, Prince Phillip
‘Just take the (expletive) picture.’ Wise words in this context

While everyone laughed at the curmudgeonly consort, that’s exactly what should have happened here. Get Kate and the kids together, take a half-decent picture that shows she’s up and about, and get it out there, without any half-baked faffing about in Photoshop or whatever program was used. ‘Done is better than perfect,’ as they say in Silicon Valley.

Further reading
The best smartphones for portrait photography
The best cameras for portrait photography
Lightroom vs Photoshop: which is best for photo editing?