Lighting an interior with practicals

I’ll let you in on a little insider secret. Whenever you see a scene in a TV show or film that looks like it’s lit with just a lamp (s) in the room, it’s not! There are other lights in the scene off camera helping to light the scene.


The short answer is to that in order to expose for the practicals with the camera, the subject or talent would be too dark and so more light has to be introduced into the scene. So what is a practical? A practical is any tangible object that produces a light- this can be a floor or table lamp, ceiling lights like chandeliers, candles, or any other object you can think of that produces a light

I had my favorite test talent, aka my hubs, sit in for this test. For something like this, simple is best. Just think of your favorite shows and movies. Scenes where it appears the practicals are the only light source often take place in homes and offices with people doing everyday things. So when the hubs said he just wanted to watch a show in bed, I felt that would be a perfect test scenario for this 3 part lighting scheme.

The first lighting scheme (above) has 2 lamps on either side of the headboard. Now practicals do emit light, but it’s rarely enough to produce a balanced exposure for the scene. After the practicals were lit, I started adjusting the 4 LED recessed lights in the ceiling using the dimmer switch on the wall. So thankful the hubs insisted on those dimmer switches! Looking at my camera monitor, I made the final adjustments of the overhead lighting so that the scene was balanced in exposure in camera but not so much that the scene felt lit from a different source other than the 2 practicals. I just shot the hubs watching a show on his phone (and the occasional dozing off :p). The edit is not meant to be consecutive actions, but rather to show the lighting set up from different focal lengths and angles. The goal of lighting scheme 1 was to preserve the natural shadows and highlights that come with using practicals while not losing the detail of the room / overall scene.

For lighting scheme 2, the goal was to create a softer light with less to little shadows on the talent, especially under the eyes. The main source of under eye shadows was the practical floor lamp as it was a light source that was above and to the side of the talent’s face. So I removed the floor lamp from the scene which decreased the light in the scene so more light had to be brought in. The side table lamp and the dimmed 4 LED recessed ceiling lights stayed the same. For more light, I used 1 Savage LED light panel with a color temp of about 4000k (mix of cool and warm) at 3/4 brightness at the wall near the foot of the bed and angled up to bounce off the white ceiling which acted as a soft light on my subject’s face. Again, the edit is not meant to be consecutive actions, but rather to show the lighting set up from different focal lengths and angles.

This third and final lighting scheme is meant to mimic moonlight. For this lighting scheme, I shut off all the lights inside the room and instead took the lights outside. For this shot, hard, focused / direct light was key as the moon and the sun are both hard light sources. The Savage LED panel doesn’t produce hard, directional light so instead I used my Savage LED studio light kit whose bulbs do produce that type of light. What’s neat about this kit is that there are colored light bulb covers in clear, blue, and yellow. Moonlight in film and TV is often depicted as blue so I went with the blue covers. I set up the 2 lights outside the window to the room directly behind the headboard and angled the light down. I then ran back inside, made a few camera adjustments and presto!

My favorite lighting schemes are 1 and 3 as they feel the most natural. When it comes to most lighting schemes in TV and film, the goal is to produce lighting that feels natural while also adequately illuminating the subject / talent in the scene without drawing attention to it. It’s a fine balance of lighting the scene without overshadowing the talent with the lighting. Which one was your favorite?