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I just finished editing photos which I had to take at a martial arts gyms which used very dim LED panel ceiling lights. These lights caused extreme flickering when shooting at my desired shutter speed. I was forced to use the anti-flicker feature on my Canon mirrorless camera. Also, due to how dim these LED panels were, I had to raise my ISO quite high, while shooting at a f3.5 aperture.

I have a friend who will be opening a new martial arts gym in a few months, he appreciates photography and mentioned wanting to purchase decent lighting from the beginning. LEDs and fluorescent seem to not be recommended for photography.

His gym will have dropped ceilings (aka ceiling tiles).

What types of ceiling lights should I recommend taking into account energy efficiency and limited space while still producing natural skin tones and somewhat accurate colors when photographed at fast shutter speeds?

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  • Can you get three phase power to the gym?
    – Philip Kendall
    Jun 9 at 5:46

4 Answers 4

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I'm assuming your friend will want LEDs, otherwise he'll be paying extra for less efficient alternatives. Browsing online you'll find a lot of 'flicker-free' LED lighting solutions, from strips to bulbs. If he picks any of those he won't have flickering. Other things to think about would be:

  • Light color/temperature (measured in K). Something on the cooler side will do well.
  • Brightness (typically measured in Lumens)
  • Light direction/arrangement. Muscles look more defined when light comes from above. Preferably lights would be installed aiming down to the ground, with a black mat and some darker walls to prevent reflection.

The last point is a stylistic suggestion but most fighting and sports promotional material will be shot with lighting aimed to create shadows on the body. It's accentuates physical features, and looks epic.

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    For LEDs make sure their Color Rendering Index (CRI) is high enough, look for LEDs that have CRI >95, if possible. In my opinion it's more important that the light temperature, because you can easily fix color temperature in post. Fixing incorrect color rendering and washed out colors is way worse
    – stativ
    Jun 9 at 8:39
  • I get good sports photos in places with lighting usually centered anywhere from 3200K to 4400k. 'Daylight' (5,000K-6,500K) LEDs tend to be much more expensive than 'warmer' LEDs. The CRI is much more important than the CT.
    – Michael C
    Jun 12 at 9:14
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High quality continuous lights are expensive. That’s part of why even “low budget” movies cost a few million dollars. And why the lights in the existing studio are what they are…

Because, the inverse square law.

One stop in camera settings requires doubling the light delivered to the subject.

This is why still photography traditionally uses strobes to deliver a lot of light in a flash.

The most practical way to take better pictures is to up your lighting kit and grip gear. Studio strobes with TTL and HSS and a trunk filled with light stands, clamps, pins, cables, etc. will work in multiple situations not just one venue.

Your friend should discuss their lighting goals with their architect. The architect will be familiar with what is available in the local market and the implications of various alternatives.

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With photography, the solution is exactly what you specified: you use the anti-flicker shoot. Most good cameras have this. Some entry-level cameras may lack it.

There are many kinds of LED lights: some flicker, some don't. A non-flickering light presumable uses some sort of electrolytic capacitor as an energy storage component. Such components fail early and often. A flickering LED light may be able to omit that capacitor, which not only lowers the cost of those LED lights, but also makes them more durable.

According to quick googling, an average gym is about 4000 square meters. In my house, I have about 70 square meters of area where lights were not initially installed (and I have to buy the lighting). That lighting cost 630 euros, and to me as a photographer is not "good enough" so using flash is mandatory. If you increase light levels 3-fold, and increase the area 57-fold, then I assume the gym would need over 100 000 euros for the light system. And with that money alone, you can't be certain that you get flicker-free lights.

My advice would be to just focus on high brightness, good color rendering and optimal and consistent color temperature and use those as specs to buy the lighting system. Those features, especially high brightness, are what professional photographers are looking for. Professional photographers already have a camera with flicker-free shooting so that's not on the list. A camera with flicker-free shooting costs maybe 500 euros more than a camera that doesn't. If we assume the cheapest adequate flicker-free system would cost 150 000 euros and the cheapest adequate non-flicker-free system would cost 50 000 euros, that's 100 000 euros difference and would make sense only if more than 200 photographers shoot in the gym during the lifetime of those lights which may be as little as 5-10 years.

For someone considering buying a camera, it's easy to see if it has flicker-free shooting as an option. For someone considering buying LED lights, it's not easy to find out if they are flicker-free.

It's possible to test, though, if you are making a large purchase. If you want to purchase 500 euros of lights, it may be tricky to arrange a test shoot session before buying. But if you want to purchase 100 000 euros of lights, it may be possible to arrange a test shoot session for many candidate lights and buy the one that doesn't flicker. But my advice still would be to let the camera buyer take care of that by buying a camera that has flicker-free shooting.

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  • I've never seen a karate studio that is anywhere near 4000m². That's the size of a major indoor sports arena, including all of the seating areas. An NBA basketball court only covers 495m². The playing surface of NHL hockey only covers just over 1,500m². An American football field only covers a little over 5,000m².
    – Michael C
    Jun 12 at 9:10
  • Google search for "average gym size" results in "According to The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the average size of a fitness-only gym facility is 42,400 square feet, while a multipurpose facility is just short of double that size at 70,300 square feet."
    – juhist
    Jun 13 at 15:40
  • Fitness gyms are facilities where hundreds of people go to workout. They usually have many different rooms, usually on multiple levels, to house different activities. Only a small percentage of the total space of such a gym would be devoted to martial arts. There would also be indoor running tracks, circuit training, several different types of pools (one for swimming laps, one for water ballet, maybe even another for water polo or competitive diving), saunas, whirlpools, areas for free weights, weight machines, circuit training, aerobics classes, dance classes, etc.
    – Michael C
    Jun 14 at 6:08
  • Have you ever actually been inside a karate studio? Anyone who is talking about drop ceilings isn't talking about a 40,000+ ft² "gym".
    – Michael C
    Jun 14 at 6:08
  • Vagner Rocha, one of the most famous and sought after MMA instructors in the world, has a gym in the greater Miami area that is 5,500ft², and that includes showers, locker rooms, etc. Detroit's top MA gym describes itself as: "The facility features an enormous space with over 10,000 sq. ft. on two levels. There’s 3,500 sq. ft. of mats, a 2,500 sq. ft. weight room a dedicated dry sauna, plus a separate cardio area featuring treadmills, stationary bikes and a full range of fitness equipment."
    – Michael C
    Jun 14 at 6:33
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If you are taking the photos for promotional material, I would suggest a flash(s) especially if color. Otherwise, incandescent bulbs. Daylight bulbs if color.

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