There was a time from about 1930 through 1958 when flashbulbs ruled the world of candid photography. Without the necessity for hot lights, cumbersome fixtures and long extension cables, almost anyone with a camera and a flash attachment could sell a photo. The rule of the day was, “F/8 and be there.” Newspaper and magazine photographers showed up at events and proudly announced that the subjects could “act naturally” because the flash would freeze the action. Publicity photographers swarmed to places where movie stars could be snapped as they passed by. Freelance photographers came out at night, overcoats bulging with flashbulbs, searching for action on their police radio scanners. They crisscrossed the mean streets of big cities to get shocking photos of homicide and car crash victims for front-page headlines.
A medium sized flashbulb used in a polished reflector could throw a powerful beam of light over 100 feet, allowing pictures to be snapped from behind police barricades. It wasn’t pretty, but you could make out the details. Weegee, the first photographer in NYC to own a radio scanner, boasted that he could get upwards of 50 bucks for a good picture of a stiff. A gang war could mean a pretty good month for photographers like that. On the occasions when photographers needed very broad light coverage for wide angle lenses or interior shots, they removed their flash reflectors and went with a bare bulb. Their techniques can be applied to modern day electronic flash.
Bare bulb lighting is exactly what the name implies: a bare light source with no modifier. Nada. No reflector, no focusing lens, no umbrella and no softbox. This differs from camera-mounted “direct flash” because a bare bulb sends the light out in all directions. In addition to striking the subject, the light bounces off the floor, ceiling and walls. A flash with a diffuser dome is a useful tool, but it’s not bare bulb. Let’s remain pure on this point for the purpose of this discussion−the light must be bare.