Concert photographers are bound to snap a few unflattering photos during a show — a pop star with hair momentarily out of place, a lead singer making an awkward face, a rapper mid-blink — but they're rarely photos that get used; no one wants to read a concert review illustrated this way. But Beyoncé isn't taking any chances. Outside photographers have been banned from the singer's Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, which began in April and ends in September. So publications wanting to run photos from the show have to use pre-approved ones her management provides.
The National Press Photographers Association has a problem with that.
"What we are suggesting is publications don't use those photos that are provided as handouts," said Mickey Osterreicher, general council for the NPPA. "If you want to have press coverage, you have to have the press."
No photo credentials have been given for Beyoncé's tour, according to a photographer familiar with the tour. Instead news outlets are directed to download photos provided by Beyoncé's management on photoshelter.com.
A representative for Beyoncé did not respond to questions about the policy. And it's unclear whether news outlets have to pay to use the four to ten photos available after each show. None of the photos show Beyoncé with a hair out of place or blinking or in the middle of making a fierce face.
"It seems these days everyone is trying to control their own content," Osterreicher said. "Eventually, if you have all the artists doing this, everything is going to be more controlled and less free."
The photography restrictions on Beyoncé's tour come after a representative for the singer asked BuzzFeed to remove photos taken during the Super Bowl halftime show that were described as "unflattering."
Osterreicher called the Beyoncé example "innocuous," saying celebrities and performers "can do whatever they want," but warned if media only reports what publicists feed them and does not cover events independently, it threatens the First Amendment's freedom of the press.
"The press should be able to cover these events," he said. "Somebody that doesn't have a conflict of interest."
If Beyoncé was exhausted and fainted on stage, Osterreicher offered, those would be photos the public would be interested in, but it's unlikely she would release those photos, he said. Although unreleased photos of fainting pop stars wouldn't be as important to the public as photos government officials attempt to hide, Osterreicher said the principles are important to defend: "Beyonce's obviously not the government ... but it's the same type of mentality. It's all connected. Things just don't happen in a vacuum. We're just trying to remain vigilant."
In January, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi posted a photo on Flickr of female members of Congress that had been Photoshopped. Four women who were not present for the photo were edited in, along with other minor changes. "Had the press not been there to take a picture to use as a comparison," Osterreicher said, it might not have been revealed the photo wasn't authentic.
"The whole idea of photography is seeing is supposed to be believing," Osterreicher said.
Osterreicher noted that most reputable news organizations tend to stay away from handout photos for this very reason (a spokesman for the Associated Press said, however, that they had made several photos from Beyoncé's tour available on its commercial distribution channels), but the changing media landscape gives publications more incentive to post what publicists give them.
"With competition these days, people don't want to think about the big picture," he said. "But they're trading off on a free press."
Beyoncé isn't the only recording artist to restrict photographers at their shows. Big-name acts often demand photographers take photos only during a certain part of the show or prohibit them for using them after several months. In 2011, Lady Gaga demanded photographers sign away their rights to any photos taken at show.
"Photographer hereby acknowledges and agrees that all right, title and interest (including copyright) in and to the Photograph(s) shall be owned by Lady Gaga and Photographer hereby transfers and assigns any such rights to Lady Gaga," according to the photo release form.
Jay Westcott, a photographer from the website TBD.com, declined to shoot Lady Gaga's show after seeing the demands. ("That's not cool. Not at all," he said.)
"Everyone has a camera at concerts these days," freelance photographer Kyle Gustafson told TBD.com at the time. "And it's unfortunate that they are trying to crack down on the professional photographers. People that are given photo access have more restrictions than people sitting in the front row with their cameras and their flashes popping off."