Christian Ammann is trusted by top-tier luxury brands to create stills and video that capture imaginations – and sell fashion. How does he rise to the challenge?
Christian Amman is a busy guy. His ability to generate everything from concept through to delivery of stills and video in his signature style, combining light, colour and movement, is in demand by global luxury brands all over the world. His many clients include Chanel, Cartier and L’Oréal. It’s a far cry from the teenage boy who thought he would be on reportage assignments.
“I knew I wanted to be a photographer since I was about 12 and I had quite a different idea of what it would be – I thought I would be out on assignment with Greenpeace or something!” he says. “Back in the early 90s, I was living with my Swiss parents in Ireland and, when I looked for somewhere to study, there weren’t really any good courses there at that time. So I ended up moving to Switzerland to study at a photography school there.”
Starting out in portraiture, the lure of fashion and the creativity it offered pulled Christian in that direction.
“The main difference with fashion and portraiture,” he says, “is that when you’re shooting fashion you are working with people who are used to being directed. When I was starting out and doing portraits I was a little shy. I would do a good portrait, with good lighting, but I was reticent to ask someone to, you know, go stand on that table, or put your head upside down or something. With fashion, I can bring my vision more and I think showing off a product in a creative and unconventional way suits me.”
Movement and lighting are key to Christian’s style, too, making him perfect to test the Nikon Z 9 in a studio environment. “I tested prototypes of the Z 9 and now it is amazing to be working with the production camera and using all those features that really make a difference,” he says. “The speed of the autofocus is incredible and I can shoot so fast with all the processing happening in the background. And the ISO is unbelievable.” For example, he adds, “I was just doing a studio shoot, which I was also filming, and using incredibly high ISO with no grain – so you’re able to work quite differently, with smaller lights, and to be more flexible, which is just fantastic.”
That flexibility also allows Christian to switch easily between stills and video when the moment needs it. “I come up with the concepts and have a very clear plan of my shoots but I do like to improvise, using the canvas that I’ve set up,” he says. ”I recently did a shoot and for the film part we had slides that could change colour and go on and off at different speeds. I said, ‘Hey, this would be really nice for the stills, too’, and it ended up being much more creative. And it was the flexibility of the camera that made it possible, capturing really fast movements. I was shooting really open, at 2.8 and I was shooting something where there is a both person running and a watch in the frame and it all had to be sharp – at 2.8!”
Having learned photography using film cameras, Christian was an early adopter of digital, as the technology improved, and then video, which demanded a whole new set of skills. “Video was a huge shift in some ways,” he says. “As a photographer you bring skills with you, like framing and lighting, but the thing that I think photographers sometimes struggle with for a while is the fact that the camera doesn’t have to stay in the same place – it’s supposed to move! And it’s very exciting when you have those transitions and camera moves, which make for stronger storytelling. Now I would say that nearly all my commissions are multimedia, with stills and video being an even 50/50.”
Using the Z 9 for filming had some real advantages for Christian. “Only last week, I was shooting a free runner and the eye detection is amazing,” he says. “He would be on a ledge and then duck down behind a wall before reappearing and doing this jump. And the Z 9 locked on to his eye before he ducked and was still locked when he jumped, so you don’t lose anything. The image stabilisation is unbelievable to watch, too. If you have image stabilisation on your lenses and you’re shooting hand-held it’s like having a gimbal. Another advantage relates to colour. On a shoot if you use different brands to shoot stills and video, you’ll see different colours from both cameras. There’s a clear advantage for me, since I’ve been using Nikon for years, in knowing that the look and feel is going to be a same. All of these features, and things like super battery life, save precious time on shoots, which means more time to actually create.”
With his use of movement, Christian often swaps between stills and video capture. “Often there are a few of us on big shoots, people that I work with a lot, sometimes shooting video and stills at the same time and sometimes me swapping between the two. It’s a funny one – with the 8k abilities of the Z 9 you can extract stills from the video and you really cannot tell the difference. I mean, you have to know what you’re doing,” he smiles, “but if you shoot it well the results are fantastic.”
When I started I thought it was the best camera, and it’s been 20 years now – I love a long-term relationship like that. For me, it’s the colours and the lenses that set Nikon apart.
One Nikon Z9, two Nikon Z 7s,
NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8,
NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8,
NIKKOR AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8,
NIKKOR AF-S 85mm 1.8 and
I’d like a really long lens, maybe a 400mm or 500mm with a very open aperture. Great for a big location with beautiful sunlight.
Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8
NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8 S
Capturing movement without compromising on fine detail is part of Christian’s signature style
Z 9, NIKKOR Z 24-120mm f/4 S, ISO 12,800
Movement and lighting are key to Christian’s storytelling style
Z 9, NIKKOR Z 24-120mm f/4 S, ISO 12,800
Christian creates otherworldy images, such as this model in a bed of roses. The image is a still taken from 8k video
Z 9, NIKKOR Z50mm f/1.2 S, ISO 320
Brands rely on Christian for a high fashion look and feel, achieved here for Nikon with the Z 9
Z 9, NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S, ISO 3200