allways do post DOF to be honest, its more controllable and very fast. Do a Zdepth pass using a custom shader, you can get some where you pick the focal point in maya.
When it comes to your lighting, use 3 spot/ directinal lights, one as your main light direction, a fill light so the areas that are not hit by the key/ main light show some 'bounce' light' and a rim light which is positioned to throw a powerful bright edge to the subject matter.
If your finding that your luminance is getting blown away, a general rule of thumb is that the value of light effecting an area at one time should never equal more than one. Use the falloff setting on the lights to achieve a more appealing gradation of light in the scene, it feels quite flat.
FX supervisor - double negative