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Lighting Spotlight: Lighting Designer Freddie Bonfanti


Now heading Raiden Studios, a full-service fashion and events lighting design consultancy, Freddie Bonfanti injects his lighting designs with the same passion and unique perspective he's gained over the course of his career; carefully considering his space and casting light in such a way that it becomes a part of the show or installation. Working his way up from the yard to sets to runway shows in London and Moscow, Freddie's varied experience allows him to create designs that push boundaries with new ideas.

Focusing Alexander McQueen AW18.

Fashion! Turn to the LightingArmed with a Cinematography degree and electricians training, Freddie worked his way from the yard, to gaffering on sets, to discovering lighting for fashion.

I started out in Scotland, working on short films and features. In 2009 I moved to Australia where I got a job as a pat testing electrician at Fox Lighting in Sydney. One day in the yard I met one of Australias biggest gaffers, Shaun Conway, who gave me a chance to work for him on set and from there he offered me a place in his team of electricians, mainly as a truck person, looking after all his equipment. It wasnt a great job, but it proved essential to refine my skills and knowledge with the gear. From there I basically started working on big films in Australia and high-end commercials thats where I refined my film lighting knowledge. Shaun is a fantastic gaffer and a wonderful person, and the Australian sparks were very good, I learned a lot over there.

When I came back to London, I started gaffering on features and commercials, but after a few years I felt like I was getting tired of the film industry. One day around 2013, I was asked to gaffer a fashion show for a big Italian lighting designer called Manolo; I had never done a show before and my curiosity pushed me to accept the gig.

Finding true passion in designing lighting for live fashion shows with help from a mentor.

The job was an Alexander McQueen show and its fair to say, it opened my eyes. I didnt know that lighting a runway show would be so interesting and incredibly creative: the big shows at Fashion Week are born out of a huge creative process that involves the designer, the creative production and all the other creatives involved. Lighting is crucial in this process and the lighting designer has huge responsibilities.

You get to work in amazing locations, and precision is key. Learning that early was fundamental. I kept working with Manolo on a lots of fashion shows and events in the following five years, I then became his associate lighting designer and friend. We really built a good relationship. The amount of stuff I learned in those five years was unique. I would say Manolo is one of the top three lighting designers in the fashion business and he was able to teach me all the secrets of fashion lighting design which is very different from film lighting.

A Difference of Precision in Fashion LightingFilm lighting is an incredibly creative process, but there is significantly more leeway when it comes to mistakes. There arent many physical restrictions on where to place your lights based on where the lens is looking and, if what you planned isnt working, you can easily move the equipment to different parts of the set. Fashion show lighting design, however, is often irreversible and unforgivable. Once you have the technical plans and a brief at hand, you need to think carefully and commit to a design, lighting fixtures, and rigging. Everything goes on an executive plan which is then submitted for sign off; there is no winging it. Your job is to create an atmosphere in the location whilst properly and evenly illuminating the runway, making the models and garments as beautiful as possible, and giving the cameras and the photographers enough exposure. Ultimately, what sells the collection are the show videos and photographs.

Choosing the right lighting is also very important: you have to be very careful of what the lamps look like and what they feel like. You cant use masculine and techy looking moving lights if the shows inspirations were femininity and nature. Everything has to carefully blend.

Adidas Original AW19.

Collaboration Process and TechniqueWhat it's like to put a show on and the dedication it requires.

Firstly, you're presented with a creative pack by production featuring the main ideas, references, loose information on the garments, and location photographs. Your job is to soak up the vision of the creative director and transform it into concrete, technical lighting design. A production drawing is then supplied, this will establish where sound, lighting, scenic elements, etc. will be positioned from the various departments. From the drawing youll be able to understand how far and wide the runway is, understand how many fixtures youll need and estimate the correct angles of lighting. Precision during this process is paramount.

Choosing the appropriate lighting instrument is also very important: you need to pick the right light for the job, but you must be very careful of what the lamps look like and understand how they will fit with the rest of the scene. You cant use masculine and techy looking moving lights if the shows inspirations were femininity and nature. Everything has to be carefully selected.

Once on site, the job is to create an atmosphere in the location whilst properly and evenly illuminating the runway, making the models and garments as beautiful as possible, and giving the cameras and the photographers enough exposure. Ultimately, what sells the collection are the show videos and photographs.

Creating AtmosphereYou arent just lighting for one medium: youre lighting for the audience, for the stills cameras, for the video cameras and lastly, for smartphones. Guests will post on social media; its all about the experience.

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