Christiaan van Heijst

Traveller, airline pilot, adventurer, photographer and admirer of natural light.


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 35 years old and flying as a Senior First Officer on the Boeing 747-8 and -400 Freighter. 
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 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 that same year. 
Presently with about 8000 hours in my logbook, including roughly 4000 hours on the 747, Im still considering myself privileged to fly for a living and enjoy a life in the sky. 

Please note that my blogs and photos do not represent the opinion and views of my employer.



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. 

In 2016 my first photobook 'Cargopilot' was published and proved to be a major succes with three print runs within one year and some major prizes, including 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize in the International Photography Awards (IPA) 2017. 



Contact Christiaan


  • Camera equipment

    The camera gear I use

    • Nikon D850
    • Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8 Fisheye
    • Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8
    • Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8
    • Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII
    • Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6

    Retired gear

    • Nikon D800 / D200 / D80
    • Tamron 17-55mm f/2.8
    • Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6
    • Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3
  • Awards

    - International Photographer Of The Year 2017
    1st place winner
    (night photography)
    International Discovery of the Year 2017 (open category - night photography)

    - Prix de la Photographie Paris (PX3)
    Bronze winner (nature/seasons)

    - Monoawards 
    Honorable mention (x3)

    - International Photography Awards (IPA)

    Cargopilot photo book:
    1st place 'Other category', 2nd place 'Monograph' category and 3rd place 'Documentary' category).
    Honorable Mention (x11) for photos various categories. 

    - Moscow International Foto Awards (MIFA)
    3rd place winner (x4)

    Honorable Mention (x2)

    - International Fine Art Photography (FAPA)
    2nd place winner
    in Cityscape
    Nominee winner; Architecture (x3), Nature (x3), Night Photography (x2), Abstract, Cityscape (x3), Landscape & Travel

    - Chromatic Awards
    2nd place winner
    Honorable mention (finalist) (x17)

    - International Travel Photography Contest   
    - January (x3)
    - February (x4)
    - March (x4)

    International Photography Awards IPA 2016
    1st place 'Digital Enhanced'
    3rd place 'Architecture; buildings'
    Honorable Mention;
       - Night Photography
       - Architecture; buildings
       - People; Portrait
       - Others
       - Nature; Aerial
       - Fine Art; Landscape
       - Nature; Trees
       - Poeple; Other

    Monochrome Photography Awards 2016
    9 Honorable Mention;

       - Landscapes (x3)
       - Architecture (x4)
       - Portrait
       - People
    National Geographic - 2016 ‘Cityscapes’ winning photo and publication in the National Geographic magazine and Travel Magazine
    International Travel Photography – Finalist with two images
    European Astronomy Picture of the day - 3 October 2016
    Lonely Planet - Editors Pick September 2016 


    Monochrome Photography Awards 2015 
       - two Honorable mention; Abstract and Architecture
    500px – Editors Choice May 2015 



    Aero International – Aviation Photo of the Year 2013

  • My photos have been featured in;

    - BBC
    - RTL Summer Night (Dutch, skip to 29:00)
    National Geographic Magazine & Traveller & 2017 Calendar
    - RTVE (Spanish news channel) (00:45)
    The Huffington Post
    - TIME magazine
    Lonely Planet

    - DailyMail (Chinese rocket launch)
    - DailyMail (747 cockpit photos)
    - Algemeen Dagblad (Dutch)

    - Nikon Pro
    - Bored Panda (747 cockpit photography)
    - Bored Panda (Storms and Skies)
    RTL News 
    - Geenstijl
    Caters News
    - StoryTrender
    - East Pendulum 
    - Daily Mail (weather photos) 
    Smithsonian Magazine Air and Space
    - The Aviationist
    - Earthables
    - Pixelistes (France)
    - HUMO
    - Colourful Rebel 
    - Observador (Portugal)
    - Tabi Labo (Japan)
    - Iorio (Japan)
    - News Cut
    - Afisha Daily (Russia)
    - La Nacion (Argentina)
    - Stuff (New Zealand)
    - Casalmisterio (Portugal)

    - Incredible Snaps
    - Storypick
    Digifoto Pro
    Metro News
    El Tiempo 
    Libelle (The Netherlands)
    Airline Ratings
    The Telegraph
    The Sun
    Sputnik News
    - VEJA (Brazil)
    Istanbul Daily News
    Daily Mirror (red lights over the Pacific)
    Daily Mirror (cockpit photography)
    Money Inc. 
    - L'essentiel (Luxembourg)
    - L'essentiel Stories (Luxembourg)
    - Froot
    - Benita (Iran) 
    - Rooziato (Iran)
    Roam New Roads
    Real Clear Life
    Design Overdose
    Showoff Club
    Deviant World
    - My Science Academy
    - Interesting Engineering
    - The Roosevelts
    - Travel Vibe
    - The mind fuel 
    - Best of Viral 
    - Elite Readers 
    - Ultralinx
    Mens XP
    - Roam New Roads 
    - Veriy 
    - Zed Studio 
    - Whatsgood 
    - Fella 
    - Tools and Toys 
    - Oye Posts 
    - Trend Hunter World

    Skies Magazine – Photographer Spotlight (magazine)
    Piloot & Vliegtuig – Major Dutch aviation magazine, including an article about North Korea’s Air Koryo pilots, a large personal interview and front cover (2014)

  • Interviews
  • Publications and clients
    • Denimair
    • Air Bridge Cargo
    • Royal Dutch Airforce
    • AIS Airlines/Flight Academy
    • National Geographic - Calendar 2017 (The Netherlands)
    • Flight International (magazine) – front cover (2013)
    • PKAirfinance – illustrations
    • KNMI ‘Hollandse Wolkenluchten’ (book; illustrations)
    • Luchtvaart 2013 (book; illustrations)
    • Im Frachtjumbo um die Welt (book; illustrations and cover)
    • ALPL – numerous publications
    • Specialist Operations – Assembling Afghanistan (booklet; illustrations)
    • Harvard University – Various illustrations
    • NTSB – yearly financial report 2011
    • FAA – annual report 2009
    • The Scotsman newspaper – front cover (2009)
    • Ocean Air – Front cover for brochures and logo
    • Alaska Air Forwarding – illustrations
    • Airliner cards – Illustrations Ariana Afghan Airlines
    • The Kabul Journal – Illustrations
    • Moments Aviation Calendar 2013 (Illustrations)
    • – Dutch aviation forum (illustrations)

    Photoshoots for Charlie Victor magazine;

    • The city of Zhengzhou (China)
    • The city of Columbus, Ohio (United States)


    • Doesburg, The Netherlands (2011)
    • Haarlem, The Netherlands (2013)
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    Answers to the most commonly asked questions

    Did you study photography?

    I am completely self-taught and just follow my intuition and creativity when it comes to photography. 
    When I was young I experimented a bit with my fathers Minolta X-700 but I only started to become really interested after I aquired my first job as a pilot. 


    How can I become a 747 pilot?

    There is no definite or easy answer to that question, since there are innumerable ways to become a pilot. Becoming a pilot these days involves high costs and no guarantees. Depending on the country you live in, you can try to join the Air Force or try your luck with a commercial pilot training, but those are costly and there is not always the chance of finding a job after you finish the flight training.
    If you specifically want to fly the Boeing 747, you'll have to have a lot of flying hours before applying at an airline that operates 747's.
    Most importantly though, its the long and difficult road towards that cockpit that you'll have to like and enjoy, not just the dream of flying a specific airplane. 


    What camera do you use?

    A full list of current and retired camera gear is found under 'Camera equipment' 


    Shouldn't you be concentrating on flying, instead of taking pictures?

    Don't worry, I only take pictures when it is absolutely safe and the workload is low. During long flights the autopilot is flying the airplane and we are always with at least two pilots in the cockpit. If time allows, I can easiliy take one or two photos without compromising my work as a pilot. 
    Another benefit of long-range flights is that we often fly with a so called 'heavy' crew, where one or two extra pilots are on board so everybody gets some rest time during the flight. During my rest period Im often able to take a few photos and sometimes Im just sitting on the jumpseat during landing and takeoff while the others are concentrating on flying the airplane. 


    How do you get your long exposure images so sharp from an aeroplane?

    It took me nearly 10 years of practice, failures, experimenting and even more failures to master the techniques that I use today, and Im learning still.
    First of all, you'll need a high-end digital camera with a sensor that can handle high light-sensitivity. Next, you'll need a wide-angle lens that is capable of large apertures to capture all the light it can possibly get.
    Even though the 747 is flying with speeds around 940km/h ~ 500kts, deep space objects like the stars are so incredibly far away that the movement of the airplane is still negligible compared with those distant light sources. Lights on the ground are a different story though and they will often show as long stripes/lines with long exposures.
    The windows in the cockpit are much bigger and of much better quality compared with those in the cabin, so I can easily place the camera next to the window and just hope the airplane doesn’t turn or shake during the exposure.


    I want to have your photos as a print!

    Stay tuned, there will be an option to buy a selection of images as high-quality prints in the near future.
    For commercial and/or editorial inquiries please do not hesitate to contact me through the 'contact me' form.


    Oh, but can you just send me the high-resolution files so I can print them myself?

    Sorry, the high-resolution files are not available.


    Can I fly with you as a passenger? I'll be really quiet!

    Unfortunately we are not allowed to carry passengers with us on freighters.


    Are you going to publish a new book soon?

    Stay tuned, lots of interesting things going to happen in the near future!