... put some brighter wattage bulbs in the practicals, have plenty of practicals, and augment when possible with some hidden ceiling bounces or paper lanterns. The exposure doesn't have to hit key levels anyway, that would end up looking over-lit.
I second David’s advice. Don’t try to light your talent with only practicals. After exposing for the light they throw on the talent several feet away, the practicals themselves will blow out. Not only is supplemental lighting almost always required to light your talent, but practicals must be treated to make them look realistic.
I find that practical lamps never look convincing unless one treats the lampshade as well as boost the bulb wattage. That is because if you stop down to keep the shade from burning out, the output of the practical, on the table it sits on or the wall its on, looks rather anemic. I find you get a more realistic look if you boost the wattage of the bulb and line the inside of the shade with ND gel. It is a delicate balance to obtain.
You can obtain this delicate balance without a monitor, by using the old school method with incident and spot meters and a selection of practical bulbs including PH 211, 212, and 213 bulbs. Years ago Walter Lassaley, BSC, instructed me to balance practical’s such that an incident reading of the direct output one foot away from the bulb is one stop over exposure. I have found that rule of thumb gives a realistic output to the practical - the light emitted downward onto the table top and upward onto the wall or ceiling is realistic. After establishing the practical’s output using an incident meter, you then use a spot meter to determine how dense an ND gel is needed to line the inside of the shade so that the shade does not become too hot.
After treating your practicals, use them as motivated sources to edge light objects in the frame. Use reverse keys for talent and underexpose flesh tones by at least two stops or more. As long as you define the contours of your subject with subtle underexposed edges, don’t be afraid to let your talent fall off into black.
The scene above from “Millers Crossing” lit by Barry Sonnenfeld is a good example. The table practical appears to be the only source of light in the scene, but clearly it takes more than just the table practical to light the room realistically. For a good explanation see David Mullen’s analysis at http://www.cinematog...showtopic=55891 is a good example.
Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lighting and Grip Equipment Sales and Rentals in Boston.