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Talking to F1 Photographer Jan-Erik Olin

Jan-Erik Olin is a photographer / film director from Helsinki, Finland. With a background in directing music videos and commercials, 2018 saw a move into F1 by documenting ‘off-track’ images of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team driver, Valtteri Bottas. From training, sight-seeing or anything else he’s doing during a race week, Jan’s work offers us a rare view into the day-to-day life of an F1 driver.

What is the best image you have captured in F1 and why?
That’s a tuff question as it’s so hard to pick just one, but I remember the first time I went to shoot in the garage, in Baku. To begin with, I was quite amazed that I got the chance to be there taking photos, so I was shooting a lot of different angles and views. In that session I shot a photo of Valtteri from above when he was sitting in his car. I’m obviously not the first photographer to take that photo, but at the time I felt really privileged to be able to be there and take the shot. That’s a momentous photo for me.

I really like shooting in the garage overall, since the lighting condition is so unique, like shooting in a studio, and all the reflective surfaces look really good in that light.

Of the off track photos my favourite session was when we were strolling around Austin in the evening. It had been raining and we took photos on quiet alleys and streets and the outcome was nice.

Ask an F1 driver what their favourite corner is, most would say Eau Rouge (at Spa-Francorchamps). But what is the best corner in the world to photograph?
My main duties are off track so I don’t really have an answer to this. And I haven’t visited all tracks either. Of course I sometimes snap a couple of photos from here and there, but can’t really state a best corner. I really liked Monaco, it’s a unique setup for a race and gives an opportunity for creative angles and shots. If you see the shot taken with a tilt shift lens, it gives a feeling like it’s a kids miniature toy playground.

I missed the race in Singapore this year, but would love to shoot there one day. The night time pictures from there looks great.

How would you describe a successful Grand Prix Weekend?
For me it would be a race in a location where you get interesting photos from outside the track too, good weather and a win for Valtteri 🙂

Is there a race or moment in F1 history you wish you had photographed?
It would have been great to be there when Mika Häkkinen won his Championships in 1998 and 1999. I remember those times well. Almost everyone in Finland was following the races every weekend back then.

What is your background and do you remember the first picture you took?
I started off with photography, as a hobby. Then I kind of accidentally got in to videography by shooting a music video for my then unknown friends. That was kind of an opening shot for my career. Nowadays the guys I shot the video for, are ones of the most well known and selling artists in Finland with a band called JVG. Photography has always been along there too, shooting album covers, commercial photos and so on, but still mainly as a hobby and passion, except the last couple of years.

Why F1?
By coincidence. My aim was never to shoot in the F1, actually I never even thought that it could be a possibility. But I’m very thankful I got the chance. It’s been very interesting and for sure one of the best, if not the best, experiences I’ve got through my work.

Was the journey to F1 similar to that of a driver? Starting off in junior categories and working your way up?
My story is a bit different. I’ve done my “ground work” with musicians and in a range of different commercial productions. But the work that I do with Valtteri is actually quite the same than what it could be doing with a music artist, more like “life style / documentary” photography.

Do you get access to everywhere and every team? If not, have you tried and failed?
There’s some places I don’t always have access to, like the starting grid, but as I say, it’s not my main duty to be shooting there. Overall I have pretty good access to places I want to shoot in. I’ve never tried to go to other teams 🙂

How did you end up working with Valtteri?
We’ve worked together on commercial video/photo shoots during the last couple of years and got to know each other through those. I’ve also been working on other projects with Valtteri’s management over the years and it just happened from there.

Can you actually watch the races whilst working at the circuit or are you too busy?
If i’m thinking this way, i’m actually in a lucky position. As my main task is to shoot Valtteri, I don’t usually have any shootings during races or whenever he’s on track. So I can fully follow the action and enjoy the atmosphere.

Do you talk to other photographers at the races or is it a mad chase to get to the right corner?
There’s some photographers that I chat with or say hi to when I see them. But since I’m not working in any media centres I don’t really get in contact with other photographers. With the Mercedes photographers I naturally get to talk with them more, but they are usually quite busy during the weekends.

Do you capture images outside of the circuit?
The most memorable events outside of racing has been when Valtteri got the change to fly a Hawk fighter jet in an airshow in Finland , or when Valtteri and his physio had a training session at an empty Stade Louis II, the stadium of AS Monaco.

What 3 items of kit can you not live without? (other than a camera and camera bag!)
Water bottle, phone, power bank charger

What’s up next in F1?
Valtteri is going to drive a rally race in the Finnish Championship next month in Lapland, Finland. I’m really looking forward to that, I bet we get some great shots from the wintery Lapland.