Tristan Schäfer

A child plays hide and seek in the sheets of the weekly wash at an orphanage in Malawi. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III by Canon Ambassador Tristan Schäfer.

A young orphan plays hide and seek in the sheets of the weekly wash at the Home of Hope orphanage in Mchinji, Malawi. "The opportunity to connect with people and places; capturing what makes them unique and telling their stories is really what I love the most," says photographer Tristan Schäfer. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/2500 sec, f/1.8 and ISO 125. © Tristan Schäfer

Hailing from the vibrant city of Johannesburg in South Africa, Tristan Schäfer has left his footprints across numerous continents, having spent significant time in Asia, North America, Africa and Europe.

His journey towards understanding diverse cultures and perspectives began in the meandering rivers of South Africa, where kayaking adventures as a youth unveiled a myriad of rich experiences. "It really opened my perspectives to so many different locations, people and cultures," recalls Tristan. "It gave me a unique viewpoint and appreciation of just how many different stories Africa has to offer." Through photography and filmmaking – hobbies he took up when he was only eight years old – Tristan was able to share these narratives with a wider audience.

"Whether it was running around the neighbourhood filming nature documentaries of the local wildlife with a little camcorder, or using the limitations of film to really hone my compositional skills; I loved to give people an emotion, a feeling that could take them into someone else's shoes," he says.

Fresh out of California's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts in 2014, preceded by a directing and screenwriting degree from South Africa's AFDA, Tristan honed his craft by writing treatments and directing, shadowing some of South Africa's renowned commercial directors, including Greg Gray and Keith Rose at Velocity Films. This opened the door to an array of commercial projects, and this experience helped shape his approach when it came to founding his own company, Old Soul Films, a year later.

Today, the Canon Ambassador counts a Golden Lens award and a Loerie nomination among his achievements, as well as screenings at international film festivals, recognition in filmmaking magazines, and commercial work published in over 35 countries.

A headshot of Canon Ambassador Tristan Schäfer holding a Canon camera.
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

Specialist areas: Commercials, documentary, fashion, wildlife

Favourite kit: Canon EOS R5
Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM
A man, slightly out of focus, sits on a chair and ties his left shoelace. The colourful shoe is in focus. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 by Canon Ambassador Tristan Schäfer.

Tristan believes that coming from a writing and directing background – courtesy both of his time at AFDA in South Africa and Dodge College in the US – has taught him the ability to see a project from all sides. "It is also integral in my career from a leadership point of view, and being able to manage other creatives effectively," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/320 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 800. © Tristan Schäfer

A woman wearing a long checked coat looks down at the floor, in a photo taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II by Canon Ambassador Tristan Schäfer.

"In terms of my experiences from shoots, most of them have been really great," says Tristan, of working with models and household names. "Most of the people I have shot with are down to earth. They were also quite collaborative and treated me as an equal, which made the creative process that much better." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 70mm, 1/100 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 320. © Tristan Schäfer

As time went on, Tristan developed Contentual, a content advisory and expertise agency that guides other creative teams in the content creation process. "Having this explorative approach really opens a diverse way of approaching projects," says Tristan. "Quite often, I use techniques from other styles and mediums to shift the way I shoot. For example, I can bring a documentary approach to a commercial project to add more authenticity."

Known for his explorative approach, Tristan has been sought after by global brands including Adidas, Netflix and Apple, and has worked with celebrities such as David Beckham and singer-songwriter Tems. "I have been fortunate to have worked with some amazing people over the years, but those collaborations would not have been possible without first building trust amongst my peers and clients that I could deliver at a high level," he says. "Most of the shoots came about from referrals or existing relationships that were built over years."

A pair of legs wearing white shoes dangle off a wall in a photo taken on a Canon EOS R5 C by Canon Ambassador Tristan Schäfer.

"I prefer natural lighting and try to make any additional light I use as seamless as possible," says Tristan. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 C with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 70mm, 1/100 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 320. © Tristan Schäfer

An overhead shot of a person's hand reaching out to a drink decorated with mint leaves. The drink is surrounded by cutlery and other food. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 by Canon Ambassador Tristan Schäfer.

Tristan says researching the brand and its clientele before a shoot is key "not only from a visual point of view, but also from a data point of view, in order to understand how people interact with the brand and what interests them." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 54mm, 1/250 sec, f/7.1 and ISO 1000. © Tristan Schäfer

Tristan says one of the secrets to his success is to go into every shoot with the same level of professionalism, regardless of whether he's shooting for a high-profile brand or a small independent business. "My approach is always the same – it revolves around creating something that best represents what message the client is trying to get across," he explains. "There always needs to be a deep understanding of who they are trying to speak to, and what they are trying to say."

How did your time at AFDA and Dodge College of Film and Media Arts influence your creative philosophy and style?

"My university years really helped me to hone in on my approach and understand more about the tools I could use to express creatively. I studied at AFDA for three years and learned all my fundamentals. I was fortunate enough to win multiple awards during this time for the short films that I wrote and directed. In my fourth year, I got the opportunity to go to Chapman University's Dodge College in California on a brief exchange programme. This really opened my eyes to the global approach to filmmaking. It made me realise that the stories we have in Africa are as relevant and interesting as the Hollywood stories we watched on TV growing up. It also taught me self-belief and how to find stories in unlikely places."

How do you prepare for a shoot?

"I like to plan as much as possible to remove as many challenges as I can on the day. You can plan more for some projects than others, but at a minimum, I always try to see the location beforehand, to check where light will fall throughout the day. I also check the weather forecast for the shoot day. Aesthetically, I look at what colours, compositions and textures the location has to offer. If there are people involved, I try to meet them beforehand to build some rapport and get a sense of who they are – this goes for both documentary subjects and models. Lastly, I make a shot list and relevant visual references for priority shots: 'need to haves' and 'nice to haves'. That usually sets most shoots up for success."

What impact did winning so many accolades so early on in your career have?

"These achievements really propelled my career forward. It gave me personal confidence in my work and potential clients the confidence to trust that I could deliver, even at a young age. This allowed me to grow relatively quickly and expose myself to larger projects."

One thing I know

Tristan Schäfer

"I think with experience comes calmness. Shoots are still as stressful and intense as they were when I was younger, but having more 'creative tools' gives me the time to think and solve problems in a way that I wouldn't have been able to do earlier in my career. So, my advice to those looking to break into the industry is to just immerse yourself fully in what interests you, and explore and experiment. But while doing this, remember to get feedback – without it, you won't know what is working and what isn't."

Instagram: @tristschafer

LinkedIn: @tristanschafer

Tristan Schäfer's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs


Canon EOS R5

Whether you shoot photos, video or a mixture of both, the EOS R5's uncompromising performance will revolutionise your creativity. "The EOS R5 is my go-to camera for most projects and my daily workhorse," enthuses Tristan. "I love how it becomes a seamless extension of me. It also performs in any conditions, from the deserts of the Kalahari to big studio setups."

Canon EOS R5 C

Delivering 8K video and 45MP stills in a lightweight, compact body that features active cooling, it's no wonder the EOS R5 C is Tristan's "run and gun documentary setup". He adds: "The form factor allows for so many rigging options, and also works seamlessly when combined with, for example, the Canon EOS C70 for multicam production."

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

This DSLR still has a special place in Tristan's kitbag. "This camera basically shaped my career into what it is today," he says. "I really have put this camera through its paces and it has never let me down. It has been on way too many projects to even mention – from China to the USA."

Canon AE-1 Program 35mm

"This is the camera that got me into photography," recalls Tristan. "My dad used to own one, and I managed to get my hands on one a few years ago. I love the idea of shooting on film every now and then. It creates this freedom through constraint, by making each shot I take very intentional and thought out."

Canon Auto Zoom 814 Super 8

Featuring the world's first 8x f/1.4 zoom lens, this video camera enables Tristan to capture retro-style B-roll. "I love the sound of the film clicking through when you hold that record trigger," he says.


Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

A professional grade zoom lens with up to 5-stops of image stabilisation and a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. "My go-to lens for 90% of situations," says Tristan. "It just gives so many options for shooting both video and photos. The wide aperture also gives great depth of field when you need help in low-light situations."

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

A firm favourite of Tristan's, this lens is typically suited to landscape and architecture photography. It is part of the Canon professional L-series flagship range, designed for robust handling and resistant to dust and moisture.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Ideal for many genres, this versatile lens boasts a fast, fixed aperture for shallow depth of field and beautiful bokeh. Tristan says it is one of his favourite lenses. "It's commonly used for macro photography, but I love it for portraiture, and product and food content," he adds.

Related articles

Canon Ambassador Jaime de Diego

Canon Europe Ambassador Programme

Find out how the ambassador programme works, and meet the phenomenal photographers chosen to represent Canon.

Canon Professional Services

Members get access to CPS Priority Support, both locally and at major events; a priority Fast Track repair service; and — depending on your level of membership — free back-up equipment loans plus return shipping and discounts on maintenance. They can also enjoy exclusive members’ offers.