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I don't have a studio, nor I want studio lights. I am interested in knowing which "kinds" of light "bulbs" should I purchase for my "table lamp" for indoor photography?

Are there some particular "colours" of lights that one should prefer? Is it advisable to purchase a white umbrella too? How and when is that used for table lamps?

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It'd be awesome if you could split the "flat light" question into a separate one from the one about types of lights. –  mattdm Sep 9 '11 at 19:21
    
You might want to take a look at an answer I gave to another question: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/8455/… -- the light in that picture is very soft (it's from a large homemade softbox source using 4 40W compact fluorescent bulbs), but the light is anything but flat. (Feel free to adapt the softbox design to an appropriate size as well. It's versatile, cheap and easy to make.) –  user2719 Sep 10 '11 at 6:28
    
@mattdm Done :) –  TheIndependentAquarius Sep 11 '11 at 4:55
    
I noticed that you changed the question. Since the answers so far address the question of what is flat lighting, I suggest you at least comment on the original question and add the link to the new one, just to put the answers in context. –  ysap Sep 11 '11 at 9:01
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4 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Regarding what type of bulb - getting a good lighting effect is seldom a function of the bulb (leave color aside). In any reasonable working distance, all bulbs become a point source equivalent (*). When doing portraits, it is usually desirable to create a large light source, thus having "soft" light (note - soft, not flat). The way to achieve this is by using some kind of diffuser or soft box. An easy setup can be a shoot-through umbrella.

(*) an exception is a long fluorescent bulb, but still it is a 1 dimensional light which may create harder shadows in the perpendicular direction.

Update: Summary of the discussion in the comments, to OP's request:

What umbrella can I use?

A "shoot through" umbrella is the semitransparent white one. A reflector umbrella can be used as well. The idea is to enlarge the effective light source. The advantage of shoot-through is that the "source" can be located much closer to the subject (technically, to 0 distance) than the reflector (where you are limited by the shaft length). This means that compared to the subject, the relative source is bigger. The disadvantage is that being semitransparent, you reduce the power of the light source.

Can I use the lamp's "shade" instead?

I'd say that a "shade" is similar in effect (just smaller). You do want a white one, though.

Where can I find such an umbrella?

Here's one: dealextreme.com. You can easily find more on eBay or Amazon.

What should be the power of the bulb?

Generally, power is "the more the better", but be careful of overheating. A dimmer controlled light will be best to get the desired effect. Weaker light can be compensated by longer exposures. You want stronger light mainly because you want shorter exposures to minimize motion blur. Also, the stronger your source, the more dominant it is and allows you better control of you lighting setup. A dimmer, however, will let you decrease the power according to the actual need, and basically will allow you to get closer to the subject.

That said, a cheap off camera flash with manual mode is far more flexible than a fixed light fixture. You can find some at the same websites I pointed to above, together with an optional optical slaves (to be triggered by your on camera flash). Some have an integrated slave. For others, use a standalone slave.

This and this can be used as fixtures for (a) bulb(s) with umbrella.

OK, I am almost convinced to try an external flash. Can you recommend an affordable one?

YONGNUO is manufacturing a series of affordable flashes, some of them have manual mode and slave. As an example, the YN460 is a basic one with nice features. (don't stop at this one - do further research on other models they have and other brands. I remember the Strobist recommends a cheap manual flash as well, which was designed using his inputs so must be fairly suitable for a home setup).

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A "shoot through" umbrella is the semitransparent white one. A reflector umbrella can be used as well. The idea is to enlarge the effective light source. The advantage of shoot-through is that the "source" can be located much closer to the subject (technically, to 0 distance) than the reflector (where you are limited by the shaft length). This means that compared to the subject, the relative source is bigger. The disadvantage is that being semitransparent, you reduce the power of the light source. I'd say that a "shade" is similar in effect (just smaller). Umbrellas can be bought for a few $$. –  ysap Sep 11 '11 at 8:55
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Here's one: dealextreme.com/p/flash-reflector-umbrella-large-5123. You can find many more easily on eBay or Amazon. Generally, power is "the more the better", but be careful of overheating. A dimmer controlled light will be best to get the desired effect. Weaker light can be compensated by longer exposures. –  ysap Sep 11 '11 at 9:35
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mainly because you want shorter exposures to minimize motion blur. Also, the stronger your source, the more dominant it is and allows you better control of you lighting setup. Dimmer, however, will let you decrease the power according to the actual need, and basically will allow you to get closer to the subject. –  ysap Sep 11 '11 at 9:53
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That said, a cheap off camera flash with manual mode is far more flexible than a fixed light fixture. You can find some at the same websites I pointed to above, together with an optional optical slaves (to be triggered by your on camera flash). –  ysap Sep 11 '11 at 9:54
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BTW: found this, to use with a bulbs: dealextreme.com/p/… or two: dealextreme.com/p/…. –  ysap Sep 11 '11 at 10:06
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I advice you to look at Strobist: http://strobist.blogspot.com/2006/03/lighting-101.html

That site describes on very detailed manner and starting from basics what equipment you need to add light to your images and how to operate them, basing on assumption you need to be able to move the equipment with you, ie. you don't have dedicated studio.

The basic set recommended there is relatively inexpensive and extremely portable, basically one flash, folding stand and umbrella for it and way to trigger it off camera, but it already gets you very far.

If your camera is not able to trigger external flash by any means, or you want studio-like environment but cheaper, try looking at this. The writer is a professional product photographer and in that article he describes how to create studio-light-like results with $50 light set.

Also, if your camera does not have hotshoe, it's worth checking if you could trigger external flash by optical triggering, ie. tune the integrated flash of your camera low enough to not be major part of the image and then use external flash that triggers when it sees another flash go off.

This tuning can be something as archaic as just taping the in-built flash with translucent material, or taping a "light guide" next to the in-built flash, so that the flash is visible to the slave speedlight, but not to the subject. Better manual flashes allow you to turn the flash head almost 360 degrees, so you can aim the light sensor right towards the camera and still select the direction of the illumination freely.

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Great general advice and a lot of it definitely applies, but I'm pretty sure the reason that Anisha is asking about 'bulbs' and not about all the flash basics, is because she is using a Canon SX210 IS, which doesn't support external flash. photo.stackexchange.com/questions/14686/… –  rfusca Sep 9 '11 at 15:12
    
Nice addition :) –  rfusca Sep 9 '11 at 15:20
    
Thanks Zds, I'll look into those links. –  TheIndependentAquarius Sep 11 '11 at 5:02
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Shadows are your friend*, in some form or another. They provide the visual clues to depth and texture in your photographs. If you have managed to eliminate nearly all shadows in your picture, it will appear to have little depth. It would appear fairly 2 dimensional - flat. The goal is to create shadows in a way that emphasize and create the depth and texture you want in a photograph. Some people may also use the term 'flat' to refer to color pictures with relatively low saturation, but that's not really the same thing.

As far as light bulbs go, consider the highest powered 'Daylight' bulbs you can find - if they're going to be your only source. If there's going to be another source (existing overhead lights), match it. I recommend Daylight so that you can more easily combine it with a large window or such without mixing colors. The biggest thing is that they all need to be the same - you can color correct easily in post processing. The clamp on reflectors for work lights at a home improvement store is a common solution to the actual 'lamp' part.

@Nicholas is completely correct about gels, but generally a household bulb may get too hot for a gel without some sufficient air circulation around it.

As far as an umbrella goes, you generally want something to 'soften' the light. So either an umbrella or softbox to start with. You can even hang a sheet and shoot through it. You're generally trying to increase the apparent size of your light source. Larger apparent sources create softer light.

I'd encourage you to try a cheap flash though - if your camera supports it ( I don't know about in your location, but on ebay there are Yougnou flashes available as cheap as $50 US.) Its much brighter than your average household bulb and provides some portability. I don't think you're using a DSLR, if I remember correctly, so its possible your camera doesn't support a external flash - so I'm not going to harp on this.


* There are exceptions to this, the fashion industry being a notable one. They often want the smooth skin and small features, so they remove shadows to remove the clues that show texture and depth of facial features.

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Plus to your *, a lot offashion shoots use MUAs to build the exact definition they want on their models features instead. –  Nicholas Smith Sep 9 '11 at 14:00
    
Even with a built-in flash, you can use an optical slave to control a cheap off-camera flash. www.flashzebra.com sells such slaves. –  ysap Sep 9 '11 at 20:29
    
Just noticed that @Zds mentioned that in his answer. –  ysap Sep 9 '11 at 20:32
    
Ya, i know - its just a pretty limiting solution really for a P&S. But they sell amazon.com/gp/product/B0037V7OUS too –  rfusca Sep 9 '11 at 20:48
    
Thanks rfusca, the bulb should be white or can be the normal yellow? Oh, a table lamp often has a lamp "shade", can that work instead of an umbrella? –  TheIndependentAquarius Sep 11 '11 at 5:00
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Basically flat lighting means there's no depth created in the image by lighting, this is favourable in some images but generally less so with people. The lighting is used to build shadows and layers so it looks like there's a dimension.

Or that's how I understand it, but it seems like a lot of people have very different definitions. Or like to just throw the phrase about.

The light colours depend on what you're shooting and the ambient light sources though, you wouldn't necessarily need coloured bulbs, but you should read up on gels and how they can be used

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Add that flat is usually rendered by a source that is located around the optical axis of the camera. A good example is the built-in flash that renders no shadows on the subject's face. –  ysap Sep 9 '11 at 13:58
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Thanks Nicholas, can you delete this answer from here and paste it in this thread: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/15579/… –  TheIndependentAquarius Sep 11 '11 at 4:57
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