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Lighting a party scene

Michael Ognisanti

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I have a question about how to light a party scene. It takes place at night, mostly in a living room and dining room. People mingling throughout. Think cocktail party vibe, not rave ;)


We need to have some flexibility to move around catching people's conversations which will include some improvising. All handheld. We want this to look natural and a little moody.


I can use practicals to motivate the light in the scene and then augment it when possible but I think I'll need to add some overall ambient just to bring up the level in the room. Any suggestions on how I can do that? I can bounce off the ceiling but I always have trouble controlling that. Or maybe I can put litemats on the ceiling but would that look to toppy?


Shooting on Alexa mini Zeiss compact zoom 30-80mm 2.8


Thanks for your help,




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Purple and yellow lighting gives a fantastic vibe for something like a cocktail party, Not too intense like RGB flashing strobe lights. Although purple and yellow are complementary colors there not as overused as most. Use the yellow for skin tones and purple for background and or back light on the subjects. Keep the yellows soft, almost seamless on the skin.

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You'd be better off to not bounce it, as if you're using gels, the colors will not be as strong for the party vibe. You definitely want to keep it very flood and ambient though. Really depends what lights and grip you're using.

Thanks for the feedback!


I don't think I'm going to bounce off the ceiling. It will be to hard to control.


I did some digging on the site and found a thread discussing similar ideas about practicals and augmenting.



Here's a screen grab...


I like this look but would just want to bring in more ambient since it's a cocktail party scene. I might try placing a few China lanterns in spots and moving them around when going in for close-ups. It's really the wide shot I'm most concerned with
That's an interesting idea about the gels. I should have mentioned that this is supposed to be a holiday party but decorative Christmas lights could have that same effect.
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Whether you use Litemats or paper lanterns for the ceiling depends on how much you can frame the lights out in the wide shots, or maybe the paper lanterns can be photographed as decorative practicals? Otherwise, if you are going to see floor to ceiling in some wide shots or Steadicam moves, hopefully your ceiling is painted in a light tone and the natural bounce off of the ceiling from the light spilling from the top of a floor or table lamp will be enough ambience. Or decorate the ceiling with strings of Christmas tree lights. Maybe use the larger outdoor type that has bigger bulbs.

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