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Strobe lights causing a seizure at a high school basketball
Alan Luby, Photographer
Riviera Beach | FL | USA | Posted: 3:01 AM on 01.20.12
->> After officiating basketball for over 30 years I don’t get too many opportunities to photograph games during the season. During a holiday tournament I had a unique situation in which I refereed the championship game which was played before the consolation game. So I took the opportunity to shoot the game I wanted to test my JTL Mobilight 300 with a quantum Turbo battery pack and play around with some equipment.

I was using one light at the top of the stands and pointed up at the ceiling to shoot one half of the court. After getting off 4 or 5 test shots I was approached by I believe the athletic director or a school administrator who indicated that they had a fan in the stands that they say could go into a seizure because of the flash going off an I was politely asked if I had to use the flash, since I was not on an assignment or working I decided to just pack up.

Has anyone had a similar situation, and has anyone used a JTL Mobilight 300 with a quantum Turbo battery?
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Darrell Miho, Photographer
Los Angeles : SFO : HNL | CA | usa | Posted: 3:41 AM on 01.20.12
->> i am not a doctor nor an expert on photosensitive epileptic seizures, but i researched this after being told the same thing and these are some of the pertinent findings regarding photosensitive epileptic seizures.

strobes need to be constant and between 5 - 70 Hz.

slower rates or random strobes are not known to cause a photosensitive epileptic seizure.
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Neil Turner, Photographer
Bournemouth | UK | United Kingdom | Posted: 5:02 AM on 01.20.12
->> Hi Alan

I have also received the same advice from a leading Neurologist regarding photo-triggered epilepsy. To his knowledge there had never been a case where a seizure had been triggered by a single photographer and the only documented case in the UK was where there were in excess of 30 photographers all repeatedly using flash for a period of over four seconds.

We have a lot of issues here in the UK with objections to flash. One trades union whose conference is often national news has banned all flash photography for many years despite their admission that the evidence does not support a ban.

I have every sympathy with organisations protecting themselves from having to deal with medical emergencies but they need to get their facts straight first.

To be clear, the advice that I was given was strobing at a rate greater than 12Hz for a period of at least one second in the most extreme case but probably a lot longer with 99% of people susceptible to the problem.
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Jeff Brown, Photographer
Greenfield | MA | | Posted: 7:16 AM on 01.20.12
->> Were I have never been told that my flash could cause a seizure I have been asked no to use flash a small reception I was covering because it had caused a woman in attendance to get migraine headaches in he past. I have had this happen after a long day of studio appointments but never after just a few flashes.
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Gregory Greene, Photographer
Durham | NH | USA | Posted: 9:11 AM on 01.20.12
->> I would honor the request as I would not want to be responsible for someone having a seizure. I'm sure neurologists have good reason to say it won't happen but there are plenty of times that the medical community is stumped as to why something occurred. It's not an exact science by any means.

Besides, the camera technology of today still allows us to get the shot in ambient light. I would much rather deal with a little noise then run the risk of hurting someone.
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Joshua Brown, Photographer
Raeford | NC | USA | Posted: 9:33 AM on 01.20.12
->> While working in a studio doing senior portraits this summer, I found out that one of our senior representatives (rising high school senior who works for free photos) had epilepsy. We had no idea that was the case. She had been in the studio 3-5 days a week all summer with at least four photographers using strobes at any given time. I'm not sure of the different levels of severity of epilepsy or other light induced seizure disabilities, but she said that it was rare that a strobe could induce a seizure in anyone as they weren't fired at a fast enough speed.
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Bob Nichols, Photographer
Tipton | IN | USA | Posted: 10:06 AM on 01.20.12
->> Last year I was approached by a coach at a volleyball game where I had set up two Canon speedlights to cover one half of the floor. The coach advised me that one of the varsity players from the visiting team who was watching the JV game had a history of seizures and my flash was making her sick. (No seizures, just sick)

The JV game was almost over so I limited the number of frames for the remainder of the match. This player was not a starter so I came to an agreement with the coach. Since I was not lighting her team's side of the court and the player was sitting behind my lights, there was no problem while she was not playing.

I told the coach that I would not shoot while that player was on the court (she rarely played) and the coach said that would be fine.

I informed the AD and the trainer about our agreement before the contest started and we had no further problem.
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Tom Ewart, Photographer
Bentonville | AR | USA | Posted: 10:36 AM on 01.20.12
->> research seizures caused by strobes, I have asked neuroloigist who do tests for seizures at my local hospital, while they were running tests on one of my children. The strobe must go off multiple times a second to trigger such a seizure they told me. Think like like a disco strobe or flickering TV. Its not true, uninformed people use this myth to shut down strobes used every few seconds to shoot sports. In 25 years I've heard this several times, but I explain my strobes don't fire that fast and I've researched it and say it they can produce any crediable evidence to prove what I believe to be the facts, I'll honor their request, but have been shut down when a ref just didn't like them (once) and he had every right to do that. Once I explain that my images are many times better with the lights and that's usually why people hire me, they usually let me continue using the lights and that I've covered several hundred events with them with no incident.

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Joshua Prezant, Photographer
North Miami Beach | FL | USA | Posted: 10:39 AM on 01.20.12
->> I have a dear friend who has epilepsy AND SHE WILL AND HAS GONE INTO A full seizure when a single point and shoot camera was used to take a group picture of her and her freinds. I saw it first hand! Something about the preFlash and then the flash did the trick. There are varying degrees of epilepsy. Sometimes strobes will result in someone feeling sick or having a minor short ( almost un noticeable seizure) and other times it can cause a Grand mal seizure that puts the person out of comission for the rest of the day. Video games have been known to cause Grand mal seizure. They have warnings on the games.

That being said, most people who have epilepsy are painfully aware of the dangers of strobes, police lights, ect... that they will reach out to you or remove themselves from the situation at the first sign of flashing lights.

Epilepsy is a serious thing and any warning from someone near you when shooting with strobes should be taken extemely serious!
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Tom Ewart, Photographer
Bentonville | AR | USA | Posted: 10:54 AM on 01.20.12
->> Joshua, like you admit the pre-flash is probably what set your friend off... the rapid flashing used to reduce red eye goes off several times before the main flash, it is the rapid susccesion of flash that is a trigger.
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Gregory Greene, Photographer
Durham | NH | USA | Posted: 10:56 AM on 01.20.12
->> If pre-flash is problematic then so is HSS as that is pulsing the strobelight at very high speeds.
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Dave Breen, Photographer
Somerset | PA | USA | Posted: 11:08 AM on 01.20.12
->> A girl in a family group I photographed a few years ago had to leave the room after a few shots (NOT repeating flash of any type). She had apparently experienced this reaction before, but no one told me until she had left.

I don't believe it would have been called a seizure, but there was definitely a problem.
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Matt Cashore, Photographer
South Bend | IN | USA | Posted: 12:31 PM on 01.20.12
->> There's a guy at ND who had strobes for a few seasons & shot constantly at I'd say around 60 Hz. Seriously. If anyone was going to cause seizures by arena strobes it was this guy. I heard many complaints but no reports of seizures.

I am absolutely not kidding. Thankfully after blowing up enough heads he seems content to stick to available light these days.
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Sam Santilli, Photographer, Photo Editor
Philippi | WV | USA | Posted: 3:05 PM on 01.20.12
->> How many pro arenas used how stobes over the years, with no problems? Get into a HS AD's little world, and let his/her ignorance run wild. The best solution to this is buy a camera that handles high ISO situations. You can be Kodak and keep strobing, or be like Fuji and adapt and survive. This sunject has been beat to death, hopefully it dies here once and for all.
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Michael McNamara, Photographer, Photo Editor
Phoenix | AZ | USA | Posted: 3:20 PM on 01.20.12
->> Sam, why would the subject die once and for all? You can crank up the ISO and shoot available, but strobed images look better. Yeah, cameras now can work in really low light. But that doesn't mean it's good light.
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Doug McSchooler, Photographer
Avon | Indiana | United States | Posted: 4:52 PM on 01.20.12
->> Sam, cranking up your ISO in most high school gyms will likely make the situation worse.

The problem with these small venues is that there are so few lights, each cycling at a different rate and emitting a dramatically different color temperature. The faster your shutter speed, the worse the situation becomes. In the larger venues with the same lights, there are many more lights that create a more consistent average color temperature.

By using strobes, you effectively clean up the color temperature with something that is extremely consistent.

Other benefits of using strobes, for me, include shooting less (editing goes faster), and less work in Photoshop fixing bad color.

Just as others have posted, strobes have been used at all levels of sports, concerts, and other functions without issue.
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Gregory Greene, Photographer
Durham | NH | USA | Posted: 5:09 PM on 01.20.12
->> Seems like the middle ground is perfectly acceptable. Go ahead and setup for strobes but if someone requests you to please not do it you have ambient light to fall back on.

As a photographer you seriously want to get into a discussion in which you are prioritizing the quality of your light over a persons health. Good luck with that.
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Israel Shirk, Photographer, Assistant
Boise | ID | US | Posted: 8:05 PM on 01.20.12
->> I just googled around a little - it looks like people have a lot of problems with pre-flashes, but a single pop or a pop every few seconds wouldn't bother them.

This site says it affects people sometimes as low as 3Hz (3 flashes per second), and up to 60Hz -

From the same site - it takes high-speed motor drives or multiple photographers -

About TV warnings about flashing lights -

Anyone have any better resources on the topic?
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Brett Clark, Photographer
Elizabeth City | NC | USA | Posted: 12:19 AM on 01.21.12
->> When I was in my earlier 20's I worked a few summers at a camp for children with epilepsy. Run by the Epilepsy Foundation in my hometown of Chattanooga, this was not just a local camp, children would come from all over the eastern US to attend because of the severity of their epilepsy and that the staff was specifically trained to address any issues pertaining to their specific needs. Many of the children had brain surgery or a hockey puck shaped device implanted in their chest just above their heart that could automatically shock the heart in case it stopped because of the type of seizures they experienced.

Off the top of my head, I can't remember all the types of epileptic seizures, but there are many factors that can contribute to the onset of seizures, some being flashing lights, heat, stress, etc. We were trained to be cautious of many issues with repeating light patterns, like kids with flashlights who wanted to flash them in each others eyes, flicking on and off light switches, even movies that flashed back and forth between different scenes quickly. While it was talked about that a bright flash in the dark should be avoided, there was never an issue with someone taking strobed pictures that were spread out. The issue, like some have stated, is when the flash fires stroboscopically, like police lights, dance strobes, etc.

I'm not claiming to be an expert in this field, rather sharing my knowledge through experience. I don't doubt that a flash may have caused someone to feel the possibility of a seizure coming on, or even actually caused one, I think there were probably other contributing factors in the mix considering how much heat and stress also contribute. There were so many more seizures that occurred in the middle of the day when the temperature was highest. In the pool cooling off having fun without stress, hardly ever.

As so often happens, people hear a small tidbit of information and jump to conclusions. Shooting with TTL flash using pre-flash or HSS can both definitely lead to causing a seizure, but firing normally as most do with strobed gyms would, in my humble opinion, never set one off in and of itself. The parents shooting from the stands with their red-eye flash would have a greater chance of setting one off. While I would definitely be sensitive to the issue, I would also explain how I would be shooting and that there would not be multiple pops at once.

The saying "I'm about to have a seizure" when seeing something flashing rapidly, or even someone in bright clothes has become fairly common. I have friends who say it, who have had past experiences with seizures, and it is definitely funny if you know the context. I even saw it in a scene in Modern Family recently, can't remember if it was a recent one or from a previous season I have on disc. As things come into the general public's knowledge this way, the more everyone thinks they know what they're talking about.

Kind of like when people say to put something in a person's mouth if they're having a seizure because they will swallow their tongue. Please don't ever do this, it is pretty much impossible to swallow your tongue. And putting something in their mouth can cause much worse damage, like them breaking their teeth and most importantly blocking their airway to breathe. Help them to the ground, cushion their head so they don't knock it on something that can cause damage and let them ride it out for a minute. Most of the time the person has suffered from them before and is used to it happening. We were taught not to call an ambulance immediately if we dealt with it out in the general public unless it would not subside in five minutes. When this happens many times for someone who can't feel them coming on and someone is around to help, that person's first inclination is to call an ambulance, while this is a perfectly acceptable reaction, it often leaves the person with epilepsy to rack up a lot of money for ambulance care for something EMT's really can't do anything about. To cover my but, please seek other resources on the best way of helping someone who is suffering from a seizure before taking my word as gospel, this is mostly suggestions based on training from many years ago. I just like to pass along information for people whenever I can because epilepsy isn't widely understood and it can be a very scary looking thing and leave an average person with the feeling that the person is dying as they witness the more severe ones. Thank you if you cared enough to read all the way down here!
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Tod Gomes, Photographer, Assistant
Pleasant Hill | CA | USA | Posted: 4:00 AM on 01.21.12
->> Having had Epilepsy from age 3 until 27 when I had surgery to correct it, I call BS. Multiple rapid fire flashes, yes, a single flash no. Rapid fire lights never caused a seizure for me because I took myself out of the situation before it could happen (like was said above). I also knew better than to stare at it (which is what needs to happen). IMHO, I think that it is some what Psychological with the strobes since that is what we have been told for years and is branded in out heads.

I am now 100% seizure free and 100% off medication but I STILL will not stare directly at rapid fire strobes because this can cause a seizure in ANYONE.

Some good info in Brett's post. No, you can NOT swallow your tongue. If I can add something, when helping them to the ground and letting them ride it out, prop them on their side so they don't gag and don't restrain them.
As far as putting something in their mouth, that can go either way depending on who you talk to and who it is. I have done it succesfully before. If I know the person and I am able, I will put my wallet between the teeth preventing them from biting their tongue multiple times.
disclaimer: I am not a DR and I do not play on on the internets.
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Tod Gomes, Photographer, Assistant
Pleasant Hill | CA | USA | Posted: 4:05 AM on 01.21.12
->> Oh ya, I have had a seizure induced before with medical strobing lights (VERY fast strobe) at a DR office so it is something they use for testing on epileptics.
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Michael Fischer, Photographer
Spencer | Ia | USA | Posted: 8:35 AM on 01.21.12
->> I'm not a doctor, nor is anyone else on here (that I am aware of) so, any advice taken by any of us needs to be done carefully.

The two most common types of seizures are petit mal and grand mal seizures. Petit mal seizures last a brief amount of time - usually 15-20 seconds. The other type - grand mal - is the one the public usually associates with epilepsy where the patient loses control.

I haven't talked about this in well over 40 years, but at the age of 5, after someone swung a baseball bat into my head, and having fallen off a slide and hit my head, I had two grand mal seizures several months after the two incidents. (One seizure may have been induced by BRIGHT sunlight - I was 5 at the time so it's been a while.) I was on drugs for a long time. I eventually just quit taking them in my teens and have not had any issues since them - or any that I am aware of.

The strobe test is very common. I've had it, and it induced a brain wave pattern that clearly indicated I had a issue. This was roughly 45-50 years ago so this isn't a new thing. This strobe was probably 2-3 feet from me, and was firing several times a second. MUCH faster than a strobe in a news or sports application. Tom Ewart's description of a disco strobe would be accurate.

Personally, I have a hard time believing a single strobe in a news or sports situation could trigger a issue. However, that's not the issue - the issue is if the player did go into a seizure - would you have liability? Would you want to be held responsible?

Like doctors, when we shoot news, we should do no harm. If a player complains I would comply - but I would also strongly encourage the player to get checked immediately. If a single strobe firing occasionally is causing someone issues - there's a good chance something else is going on.
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Ron Manfredi, Photographer
Merrick (Long Island) | NY | | Posted: 9:35 AM on 01.21.12
->> I can appreciate all the input here, but isn't the bottom line that if the AD/administrator makes a request, you should comply with it at the time. Perhaps a follow-up with the AD/administrator at a later date can clarify things for the future, but at the time of the incident, didn't Alan do the only thing possible?
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Michael Fischer, Photographer
Spencer | Ia | USA | Posted: 10:38 AM on 01.21.12
->> Short answer: Yes. But background information for the follow up is important as well.
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Brett Clark, Photographer
Elizabeth City | NC | USA | Posted: 10:41 AM on 01.21.12
->> Tod is correct on the issue of the wallet in the mouth so the person won't swallow their tongue, I think they were just so adamant about people not doing it because there's been occasions where someone has put something too hard in there and the person broke teeth. Something soft and not able to swallow would be fine.

Back to the original subject, it's kind of different since Alan wasn't on assignment, there was nothing to lose and it was the right thing to do in that circumstance. If the light was good enough to shoot at high ISO and it was not a terribly important game, maybe I would have just complied and tried to talk to him later to educate him on the subject. Had it been a big game and I was on assignment, I think I would have spent a few minutes explaining to the AD, in the most congenial way possible, exactly how my lights were going to fire and that what could cause issues would be someone firing rapidly. If they won't budge on the issue, I think it's in your best interest to not seem to be a jerk being more worried about your photos over the health of others.
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Thread Title: Strobe lights causing a seizure at a high school basketball
Thread Started By: Alan Luby
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