Digital Cameras

Gallery: Breathtaking aerial photography from a 747 cockpit

Lightning in the distance captured by airline pilot Christiaan van Heijst
Lightning in the distance captured by airline pilot Christiaan van Heijst
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Thunderstorms illuminated by the setting sun over Texas
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Thunderstorms illuminated by the setting sun over Texas
The unexplained red lights over the Pacific, taken in mid 2014
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The unexplained red lights over the Pacific, taken in mid 2014
A remarkable weather shot
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A remarkable weather shot
St. Elmo's Fire, a strange electrical phenomenon, covering the nose of the airplane
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St. Elmo's Fire, a strange electrical phenomenon, covering the nose of the airplane
Lightning in the distance captured by airline pilot Christiaan van Heijst
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Lightning in the distance captured by airline pilot Christiaan van Heijst
Above the clouds
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Above the clouds
Clouds over the Sahara
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Clouds over the Sahara
Above the clouds
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Above the clouds
Above the clouds
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Above the clouds
Shadows on Earth
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Shadows on Earth
Beams of light
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Beams of light
Clouds over the Sahara
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Clouds over the Sahara
Above the clouds
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Above the clouds
The edge of the world
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The edge of the world
The edge of the world
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The edge of the world
The edge of the world
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The edge of the world
The edge of the world
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The edge of the world
The universe
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The universe
The edge of space and another plane flying over
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The edge of space and another plane flying over
Northern Lights
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Northern Lights
Northern Lights
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Northern Lights
Northern Lights
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Northern Lights
Northern Lights
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Northern Lights
Northern Lights
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Northern Lights
Northern Lights
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Northern Lights
An electrical storm
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An electrical storm
On the edge of the world
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On the edge of the world
Cumulonimbus clouds
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Cumulonimbus clouds
Above the clouds
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Above the clouds
Lakes from above
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Lakes from above
Through the clouds
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Through the clouds
On the edge of the globe
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On the edge of the globe
Above the clouds
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Above the clouds
Above the clouds
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Above the clouds
Another glimpse of St Elmo's Fire
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Another glimpse of St Elmo's Fire
A way through
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A way through
Lightning in the distance
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Lightning in the distance
Clouds from above
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Clouds from above
Colliding stormfronts
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Colliding stormfronts
Above the clouds
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Above the clouds
Sun low on the horizon
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Sun low on the horizon
Clouds sinking over mountain tops
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Clouds sinking over mountain tops
Above the clouds
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Above the clouds
Above the clouds
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Above the clouds
Greenland from above
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Greenland from above
Greenland from above
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Greenland from above
Greenland from above
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Greenland from above
Greenland from above
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Greenland from above
Greenland from above
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Greenland from above
China – Inner Mongolia
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China – Inner Mongolia
Sudan – The Blue Nile
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Sudan – The Blue Nile
A settlement in the middle of the Sahara - Mauritania 
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A settlement in the middle of the Sahara - Mauritania 
Sinai – Egypt
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Sinai – Egypt
Sahara – Algeria
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Sahara – Algeria
Sahara – Mali
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Sahara – Mali
Sahara – Algeria
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Sahara – Algeria
Hong Kong
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Hong Kong
Kabul, Afghanistan 
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Kabul, Afghanistan 

Christiaan van Heijst is an airline pilot with over a decade's experience flying everything from small turboprops to massive Boeing 747s. Van Heijst is also an accomplished photographer and his ability to capture spectacular images from his privileged perspective while criss-crossing the globe offers us some truly sublime images of the planet from angles not many of us have a chance to see.

At the young age of 34 years old, van Heijst has already logged 8,000 hours of flight time, including 4,000 solely on the 747. Over the years, his interest in photography crossed over with his job, and after years of experimenting he learnt how to capture remarkable images in the tricky low-light conditions of an airplane cockpit.

St. Elmo's Fire, a strange electrical phenomenon, covering the nose of the airplane
St. Elmo's Fire, a strange electrical phenomenon, covering the nose of the airplane

In 2014, van Heijst captured international headlines after he photographed some bizarre light patterns over an isolated patch of the Pacific Ocean. The lights appeared somewhere southeast of the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula and to this day remain a mystery. Various hypotheses have been put forward to explain the lights, from suggesting it could be bioluminescent plankton or algae to the more mysterious phenomenon of earthquake lights. Van Heijst himself leans towards the idea that the lights were part of a secret Russian military test.

The unexplained red lights over the Pacific, taken in mid 2014
The unexplained red lights over the Pacific, taken in mid 2014

To capture his stunning shots van Heijst currently uses a Nikon D850. Most of his longer exposure night images utilize a 10.5mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. It was only recently, in late 2017, that van Heijst upgraded from an older Nikon D800 to the D850, but it's his fundamental ability to be able to shoot through the higher quality cockpit windows that allows him to generate better images than an average passenger through a cabin window.

Perhaps some of his most mind-bending images are the glimpses of massive weather patterns seen from above. The amazing ability to looking down on these volatile cloud systems offers a perspective on these magnificent natural phenomena unlike anything we have ever seen.

A remarkable weather shot
A remarkable weather shot

Van Heijst released a book chronicling some of his journeys back in 2016. Called Cargopilot, the book is still available to buy, but you can follow him on his more recent adventures through his website or Instagram account.

Take a look through our gallery highlighting some of van Heijst's most amazing photographs.

1 comment
Bob
I like the part where this pilot logged over 8,000 hours by age 34. A lot of hours but my Father belonged to a small group of pilots who had logged over 10,000 hours by age 30 as a test pilot in high altitude bombers much of which was over 50,000 feet. Unfortunately, Dad was not allowed to take pictures but he described some amazing weather sights, The most interesting was the plane being totally covered with St. Elmo's fire which also followed his hand back and forth across the cockpit window.