Airplane views: Dutch pilot Christiaan van Heijst takes striking photographs of his magnificent view from the plane cockpit. Pictured here: The Aurora Borealis captured from the cockpit.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Solitude and wonder: Van Heijst wanted to capture an aviator's feeling of wonder: "It's like a peaceful solitude just flying high up in the sky away from the rest of the world and the planet," he tells CNN Travel. Pictured here: The Milky Way over Brazil.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Capturing the moment: Van Heijst has been photographing his voyages for almost all of his 14-year career. The pilot got his first job aged 20, flying in Africa and Afghanistan. Pictured here: Pakistan waterways.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Capturing the moment: On these early flights, van Heijst decided to bring his camera to document the experiences. "I needed to capture them because I realized that if I don't take pictures of it, if I don't capture it, it will be gone forever," he says. Pictured here: Afghanistan from the sky.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Dual passions: Van Heijst always wanted to become a pilot: "Whenever I saw an airplane as a boy, I wanted to become a pilot," he says. But it was the experience of photographing these early flights that cemented van Heijst's passion for photography. Pictured here: Mount Rainier, Washington.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Sharing experiences: The pilot started out photographing his travels off-plane. But he soon realized his experiences in the air were also worth capturing. Pictured here: Views of sunrise and thunderstorms from the cockpit.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Broadened horizons: "It started with documenting these adventures back in Africa and Afghanistan, but I broadened my photography to documenting the whole feeling, the total feeling of being high up in the air -- and being in an environment where only a very few people are able to enjoy the views," van Heijst explains. Pictured here: Contrails in the sky.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Pilot privileges: While the view from the cabin can be impressive -- it has nothing on the cockpit panoramas. As van Heijst says, "the whole experience is much more interesting if you have these big windows around you and you're physically controlling the airplane." Pictured here: the Aurora Borealis pictured through the airplane window.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
St Elmo's Fire: Alongside the Northern Lights, van Heijst has witnessed other incredible natural phenomena, including St Elmo's Fire, pictured here. "It sometimes happens when you fly through a very electrically charged cloud, let's say a thunderstorm or even snowstorms, where these snowflakes give a little friction to the airplane," he explains. Pictured here: St Elmo's Fire through the window.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Diverse landscapes: Van Heijst's current job takes him around the world in a 747 airplane -- and offers a diverse range of spectacular photo opportunities. "We're flying to all the corners of the world and we fly over all the oceans and all the deserts," the pilot says. Pictured here: Saharan landscape and the Nile.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Safety first: Nevertheless, the process of taking photographs on board is complex. "First of all, flying the airplane has top priority," explains van Heijst. "So I only take pictures when I can." Pictured here: The Northern Lights at sunrise.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Inside the process: The images are usually long exposure shots. Van Heijst leaves his camera on the cockpit's glare shield and uses a wide angle lens to capture as much of the scene as possible. Pictured here: The moon and clouds from the window.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Learning process: "I'm still learning and evolving," says van Heijst of the photography process. "Because there is no room in the cockpit for tripods -- I don't use any suction cups, so I just hold the camera there, press it into the corner and just hope for the best." Pictured here: Clouds from the Stratosphere.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Expressions of solitude: Van Heijst has started experimenting with different angles for different effects. "These pictures where you see partially the cockpit and partially the outside world, I think this is one of the few ways I can express in a photograph the feeling of solitude," he says. Pictured here: Moonlight in the cockpit.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Reflections: It's only in recent years that van Heijst has started considering the link between flying and solitude. "For me the drive to take these pictures has always been there, but only recently I started to realize the exact emotion behind it that I try to convey or capture," he reflects. Pictured here: Mount Redoubt in Alaska.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Aurora Borealis: The Northern Lights is one of van Heijst's favorite views he has captured: "The Aurora, that's just always beautiful no matter how often I see it, it's just always fantastic," he says. Pictured here: Northern Lights over Canada and the cockpit.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Spectacular views: During particular stunning Aurora displays, van Heijst says pilots will dim the cockpit lights to enjoy the view. Pictured here: Sunset and shadow.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Private light show: The pilot says he will never forget the first time he saw the Aurora in all its glory. "We were spectators of a massive private show of Northern Lights and this is something that really makes me feel very privileged," says van Heijst. "And yeah, I have to capture that with my camera." Pictured here: Zodiacal light, sunrise.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Insider look: van Heijst's photographs also provide an insight into a side of aviation the public rarely gets to see. "Since 9/11, passengers are not allowed to come into the cockpit anymore," explains van Heijst. "So we as pilots, we find it really difficult to convey the beauty of flying, especially with an industry that has its huge downsides, especially on family life etc." Pictured here: Clouds over Germany.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Capturing the cockpit: As a result, van Heijst's colleagues are grateful he is capturing the world of the cockpit. "They use these pictures to tell their families what it is like," van Heijst says. Pictured here: Stormy clouds in a thunderstorm.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Humans and nature: Despite his supportive co-pilots, van Heijst avoids getting them in the picture. "Even though many of the pilots, they actually don't mind being in the photos, I try to minimize the human elements in the cockpit pictures because sometimes it's just distracting from the actual view," he says. Pictured here: Runway fog in the morning in Curitiba, Brazil.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Contrasts: However, in some photographs, van Heijst enjoys depicting the contrast between "a very technical environment, the cockpit, and the world outside." Pictured here: Storms over Toronto.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Favorite landscapes: Van Heijst says Afghanistan remains one of his favorite landscapes to fly over: "I just fell in love with the country -- even up to today when I'm flying over Afghanistan, I'm just glued to the window enjoying the views," he says. Pictured here: Landing in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Rough landscapes: "Actually there are quite a few areas that I really enjoy - what they have in common is that it's all really isolated and rough landscapes," says van Heijst. He also names Alaska and Greenland as other favorites. Pictured here: Sunset over the Himalayas.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Unpredictable conditions: Of course, flying is inherently unpredictable and van Heijst can never foresee how his photographs will develop: "We're flying in the air which is unstable by nature, sometimes I'm taking a picture - it's completely, completely still - and I take my camera out," he says. "And the moment I place the camera on the pedal stool or on the on the glare shield the turbulence starts!" Pictured here: Thunderstorms from the cockpit.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Painting a picture: "The pictures I take, let's say they are the tip of the iceberg," van Heijst says. "But many of the pictures are either shaky or blurred [...] but I think overall, my pictures, they give a pretty clear image of what it is like to fly." Pictured here: London city lights and clouds.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Second career: van Heijst is delighted his photographs are getting exposure: "I'm now setting up basically my business, because I hope that my photography will become a second job or second career, because I realize that there's so much potential and I realize that so many people, all over the world, are just fascinated by these views," he says. Pictured here: Shooting stars over India.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Universal appeal: Van Heijst's photographs have been well-received on social media. "It's partially people who are pilots themselves, or who love the views we have as pilots," he says. "But more and more it's also people who just have a love for aviation, or even people who say 'I don't even like airplanes, I don't even like aviation in general.'" Pictured here: Cloudy sky over Romania.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Working hard: For pilots and photographers, van Heijst has one message: "If you want to achieve anything in life you always have to work hard, it's super cliché but it's true," he says. Pictured here: Sunrise and thunderstorms over Texas.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Time and effort: "I think if you put enough time and effort and motivation into something, either becoming a pilot or doing something else, it's always reachable," says van Heijst. Pictured here: Sunset over the South Atlantic Ocean.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
New opportunities: Van Heijst also encourages young people to consider becoming pilots. "In aviation, I think there will be a lot of job opportunities in the future. There will be a huge demand for pilots," says van Heijst. Pictured here: Thunderstorm over Minnesota.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Persistence in photography: As for photography, van Heijst says it is important to remember your work will improve as you learn. "With the photography part, I think it's -- for example I never did any training, I never did any courses, I'm just completely, completely self-taught," he says. "But this is also a matter of persistence." Pictured here: Views of the ice and mountains of Greenland.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Developing talents: Van Heijst says his photographs have become better over the years. "I've been doing it now for almost 14 years in total. And I've finally now reached a point that my pictures are becoming popular enough," he says. Pictured here: Cloud formations from the cockpit.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Willingness to fail: "It takes a long breath, a lot of effort, and willingness to fail very often [...] you will encounter situations where it's frustrating you couldn't capture it, but persistence, that's the best word to describe it," says Van Heist. Pictured here: Aurora sunrise over Canada.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst

Pilot's spectacular photos taken from an airplane cockpit

(CNN) — Purple lightning, psychedelic sunsets, glowing clouds and swirling Northern Lights -- when it comes to crazily beautiful natural phenomena, airplane pilots have a front row seat.
For the rest of us wanting a glimpse of what life is like in the cockpit 30,000 feet above the planet, there are the incredible photos taken by Dutch pilot Christiaan van Heijst.
Van Heijst has been documenting the scenes outside his cockpit window since becoming a pilot at the age of 20.
"It's like a peaceful solitude just flying high up in the sky away from the rest of the world and the planet," he tells CNN Travel.

Capturing the moment

van Heijst takes photographs from the cockpit window, including this shot of Afghanistan.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Determined to become a pilot since childhood, he got his first job 14 years ago, flying in Africa and Afghanistan.
The pilot brought his camera along to document the experiences. "I needed to capture them because I realized that if I don't take pictures of it, if I don't capture it, it will be gone forever," he says.
van Heijst has been flying planes for 14 years.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Van Heijst quickly realized that photographing from the plane was just as exciting as photographing on the ground.
"It started with documenting these adventures back in Africa and Afghanistan, but I broadened my photography to documenting the whole feeling, the total feeling of being high up in the air -- and being in an environment where only a very few people are able to enjoy the views," van Heijst explains.
The spectacle of cockpit panoramas proved to be far more exhilarating than the view from a passenger window.
As van Heijst says: "The whole experience is much more interesting if you have these big windows around you and you're physically controlling the airplane."

Natural phenomena

The Northern Lights remain the most incredible sight van Heijst has captured. Here, they are photographed over Canada.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Now a Senior First Officer on a Boeing 747-8 freighter, van Heijst has photographed the sun rising and setting, moonlight illuminating rivers, dramatic desert landscapes, striking cloud formations and some of the world's most spectacular natural displays.
He says the Northern Lights stand out as the most memorable.
"The Aurora, that's just always beautiful no matter how often I see it, it's just always fantastic," he says, none more so than the first time he witnessed it north of Alaska.
"We were flying, I think, for at least eight hours under a huge dome of Northern Lights," he recalls. "There was just a lot of Arctic ice and all the Northern Lights were being reflected in the ice below. And this was just unbelievable."
St Elmo's Fire is an incredible natural phenomenon, captured by van Heijst here.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
While the Aurora can be seen across the world, watching it from the cockpit feels like a private show, he says.
"We were spectators of a massive private show of Northern Lights and this is something that really makes me feel very privileged," van Heijst adds. "And yeah, I have to capture that with my camera."
The photographer also shot an amazing image of St Elmo's Fire -- another incredible natural phenomenon that occurs during electrically-charged storms.
"The skin of the airplane starts to grow purple or pink and you can actually see it sometimes around the windows," he says. "And because we're always flying in the clouds when something like this happens, you see just the whole area around the airplane is turning purple, and sometimes you just see the glow around the window edges. And this is really special, this is really beautiful."

The solitude of flying

A thunderstorm captured from the cockpit.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
In nearly a decade and half of flying, he's been perfecting his photographic techniques on the go.
"First of all, flying the airplane has top priority," explains van Heijst. "So I only take pictures when I can."
His striking images are usually long exposure shots. The pilot props his camera up on the glare shield, using a wide angle lens to capture as much of the scene as possible.
"I'm still learning and evolving," he says. "Because there is no room in the cockpit for tripods, I don't use any suction cups, so I just hold the camera there, press it into the corner and just hope for the best."
He also has to battle the unpredictability of turbulence.
van Heijst wants his photographs to express the feeling of solitude. Pictured here: the moon and clouds.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
Often the breathtaking views speak for themselves, but occasionally van Heijst makes use of the interior of the cabin to complement the spectacle of the sky outside.
Capturing this contrast on film is a satisfying -- and revealing -- experience for the pilot.
"These pictures where you see partially the cockpit and partially the outside world, I think this is one of the few ways I can express in a photograph the feeling of solitude," he says.

Unknowable world

van Heijst normally doesn't include the cockpit in his shot, but sometimes he enjoys the contrast with the outside world.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
"Since 9/11, passengers are not allowed to come into the cockpit anymore," explains van Heijst. "So we as pilots we find it really difficult to convey the beauty of flying, especially with an industry that has its huge downsides, especially on family life etc."
The pilot's colleagues are grateful he can capture their daily experience: "They use these pictures to tell their families what it is like."
Despite his co-pilots being so supportive, van Heijst generally avoids getting them in the shot.
"Even though many of the pilots, they actually don't mind being in the photos, I try to minimize the human elements in the cockpit pictures because sometimes it's just distracting from the actual view," he says.
However, in some photographs, van Heijst chooses to capture a colleague at work -- underlying the contrast between "a very technical environment, the cockpit, and the world outside."

Social media takeover

van Heijst took this photograph of the runway at sunrise in Curitiba in Brazil.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
As he continues to share his photographs on his Instagram account and website, van Heijst's work is becoming increasingly popular.
"It's partially people who are pilots themselves, or who love the views we have as pilots," he says.
"But more and more it's also people who just have a love for aviation, or even people who say 'I don't even like airplanes, I don't even like aviation in general.'"
If the good feedback continues, van Heijst hopes he can make photography a second career -- although he remains committed to flying.
"I'm now setting up basically my business, because I hope that my photography will become a second job or second career, because I realize that there's so much potential and I realize that so many people, all over the world, are just fascinated by these views," he explains.

Persistence and determination

van Heijst hopes his dual career will inspire others to take up a career in aviation or photography. Pictured here: Mount Redoubt in Alaska.
Courtesy Christiaan van Heijst
For fans who might want to follow in his footsteps, either as a pilot or photographer, van Heijst has a universal message:
"If you want to achieve anything in life you always have to work hard, it's super cliché but it's true," he says.
As for photography, van Heijst says it is important to remember it's a learning process -- and your images will improve as you practice and develop your style.
"It takes a long breath, a lot of effort, and willingness to fail very often [...] you will encounter situations where it's frustrating you couldn't capture it, but persistence, that's the best word to describe it."
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