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Stunning images from 30,000 feet above the planet

February 20, 2018 09:15 IST

We all know that the best view in a plane is from the cockpit -- and these stunning pictures underscore that.

34-year-old Christiaan van Heijst, Dutch senior first officer and cargo pilot, produces some jaw-dropping pictures from the cockpit of thunderstorms, shooting stars, the Northern Lights, carpets of cloud and cities lit up at night.

Here’s a glimpse of what life is like in the cockpit 30,000 feet above the planet.

For more images, check out van Heijst's website ( and his Instagram page ( 

All photographs courtesy: Christiaan van Heijst

Christiaan van Heijst wanted to be a pilot since childhood. His dream came true 14 years ago when he bagged his dream, flying in Africa and Afghanistan.


Talking of his love of flying, he’s quoted as telling CNN Travel, “It’s like a peaceful solitude just flying high up in the sky away from the rest of the world and the planet.”

The pilot brought his camera along to document the experiences. “I needed to capture them because I realised that if I don’t take pictures of it, if I don’t capture it, it will be gone forever,” he says.

Van Heijst navigates his way “through a maze of heavy weather and thunderstorms”.

Van Heijst says that photography from the plane is just as exciting from the ground, if not more. He says the Northern Lights (in the image) 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.

Van Heijst occasionally makes use of the interior of the cabin to complement the spectacle of the sky outside.

The earth couldn’t look more peaceful in this shot of clouds. Van Heijst said: “All photos together create a much bigger picture of what it’s like to fly high up in the empty skies, an isolated vastness where humans or animals naturally have no place to be.”

Here’s another image of sunrise and the Aurora over Russia. Speaking of the Aurora, he says, “It adds to the almost super-natural sensation of seeing the world from that unique angle and perspective and makes us feel so small and insignificant in comparison to the dimensions of the weather and aurora.”

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.”

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.

This beautiful image of Cumulus clouds over the Gulf of Mexico.

van Heijst takes photographs from the cockpit window, including this shot of Greenland.

Van Heijst’ current job takes him around the world in a 747 airplane -- and offers a diverse range of spectacular photo opportunities. Here in the image is the Sahara, Mauritania.

The pilot says his photos also help in providing an insight into a side of aviation, the common man rarely gets to see. Pictured here is the sunset over the Himalayas.

In this hypnotic image Northern Iraq is bathed in moonlight. Van Heijst said: “These are views and impressions humankind has only been able to behold for a hundred years, and before that it was only seen by birds.”

His advice for budding photographers wanting to take the perfect shot from a plane window is to make sure that only light from outside hits the lens. Pictured here is downtown Manhattan in New York.

A beautiful midnight arrival in Hanoi.