Christiaan van Heijst. Amazing Pilot’s Photographs from Above

Dutch pilot Christiaan van Heijst‘s photographs capture the views he sees from his cockpit.

From the patterns made by the Marho Kotri River Delta in Pakistan, to the amazing colours of the Aurora Borealis over Alaska, his images show a point of view not usually captured.

Although van Heijst does not take photographs on every flight, spending up to 100 hours in the air a month means he can find time to work on the aerial photography he has spent more than a decade perfecting.

Often, he will just place his camera on the cockpit’s glareshield with the lens next to the window, allowing it to sit there during a long exposure. However, the pilot observes: “I still have to shoot at least five to 10 images at night with long exposures to get at least one very sharp one, if I’m lucky.”

Van Heijst often works on long haul flights where three or more pilots are flying the plane, giving him the opportunity to move about and make images such as this one of the Northern Lights over the wing of a Boeing 737. He explains that the lights are so bright that sometimes he only needs an exposure of a couple of seconds to capture them.

Using exposures as long as 30 seconds, the photographs are at high risk of blurring – particularly with the constant threat of turbulence. In fact, van Heijst jokes: “I found out that Murphy’s law (an adage that states, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) applies in the stratosphere as well; the moment I position my camera, the aeroplane starts to shake and tremble.”

Flying

Born and raised in The Netherlands, I was drawn to the sky and decided from an early age I wanted to become a pilot.
I started with gliderflying at the age of 14 and achieved my PPL (private pilot license) at the age of 18, even before my drivers license.
As a passionate beginning aerobatics pilot, I competed with the Dutch National Aerobatics Championship and ended with a first place in the beginners class in 2003 at the age of 20.

Currently 33 years old and flying as a Senior First Officer on the Boeing 747-8 and -400 Freighter for Cargolux; Europe’s major all-cargo airline.
At the age of 20 I was hired by ACMI-specialist Denimair as a First Officer on the Fokker 50 Turboprop.  I flew the wonderful Fokker 50 for almost 2,5 years with operations ranging from European contracts, to local African airlines and military operations in Afghanistan that have left a deep impression on me.
In 2006 I joined Transavia, where I flew as a First Officer on the Boeing 737. From that moment, until my last flight with Transavia, I was also a freelance ferry- & test pilot on the Fokker 50 and Boeing 737 for Southern Cross International.

After 4,5 years on the Boeing 737 I was hired by Cargolux as a First Officer on the Boeing 747-400 at the age of 27, being one of the youngest pilots to be introduced on the very first 747-8 that entered service with Cargolux that same year.
Presently with about 7000 hours in my logbook, including roughly 3500 hours on the 747, Im still considering myself privileged to fly for a living and enjoy a life in the sky.

Night flight over Central India, between Doha and Hanoi. Thousands of miles from the place I call home, flying through one of those dark nights where millions of stars are illuminating the expanse above and just as many lights and people on the ground pass by in slow motion. With my body still in the European time zone, it feels as if I’m residing in a time capsule that is suspended somewhere between the surface and the infinity of the universe above. Time, distance and perspectives become completely relative if I let my thoughts wander for a minute. At home I’m missing another birthday party I was invited for; one of the many drawbacks of this job that I willingly accepted when I choose to pursue this career. The unique views and perspectives come with a price. What do you want to be when you grow up? 10-year old Christiaan; ‘A pilot!’

Photography

From an early age on I have found great joy in capturing the beauty of natural light in all its forms. Combining that with flying later in life, and a new passion emerged.
Seeing the entire world in my job, I feel privileged to be in a position to capture many different parts of the planet through my camera and immortalize the beauty of the places I visit.
Last few years my aviation- and aerial photography has become well-known and has been reproduced widely in print and online.

One of the most widely known photos are those of a yet unexplained group of red lights in the Pacific Ocean, spotted August 24th 2014.
Those photos unexpectedly went viral after I posted them on social media, being picked up by the Dutch blog Geenstijl and consequently generated a lot of attention worldwide.

Red lights over the Pacific – August 2014

In 2016 my first photobook ‘Cargopilot’ was published and proved to be a major succes with a second print in stores now.

Check Christiaan van Heijst’s website and find more of his amazing photos: landscapes, cities, architecture, people and aviation photographs.

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