10 Minutes with…Christiaan van Heijst, Pilot & Photographer

Christiaan van Heijst

An interview with Christiaan van Heijst, Pilot & Photographer

Name: Christiaan van Heijst | Occupation: Pilot and Photographer | Location: All over the World | Known for: Aerial-, Aviation-, Long-Exposure- and Fine Art Photography

Hong Kong is home to an abundance of creative talent, spanning across different career paths from illustrators to chefs. Each week we interview some of the most notable creatives and entrepreneurs from around the city to learn some of their quirky habits, hopes and dreams, and “favourite things” to share with us—all within the short timeframe of 10 minutes. This week, we got up and personal with Christiaan van Heijst, a pilot and photographer, specialising in aerial-, aviation-, fine art- and long-exposure photography.

Christiaan van Heijst
Moonlight Cockpit 747 | Image courtesy of Christiaan van Heijst

A Little Background…

Born and raised in the Netherlands, Christiaan was always fascinated with the sky and airplanes. At the ages of two and four, he flew for the first time as a small passenger and this experience laid the foundation for him later in life. 

Turkmenistan Sky, Desert and Sea | Image courtesy of Christiaan van Heijst

After graduating from high school in the Netherlands, Christiaan soon worked myself up to flight school and his first job as a pilot on the Fokker 50 Turboprop, flying on contract, all over Europe and in Africa and Afghanistan for about two years. He then flew for a few years for a Dutch holiday charter before being hired as a 747 cargo pilot and flew all over the world in a demanding network of freight operations.

Image courtesy of Christiaan van Heijst

That’s when the photography career came in. Inspired by science fiction, the stars, flying and the moon, Christiaan soon developed his own style of photography from the cockpit, in an attempt to show his deep fascination with the unique views from above. In recent years, his writing also grew parallel with his social media posts and gained a lot of traction as well. So much that it inspired him to write his first short story (to be published soon). Thus, finding a new branch in creative expressions gave him a lot of satisfaction and fulfilment.

Christiaan’s photographic work has been published across the world, including several notable publications from CNN and National Geographic to BBC, and much more. He has also received numerous awards, including the title ‘Special Photographer of the Year’ in the renowned International Photography Awards (IPA) 2019 and the title ‘Architecture Discovery of the Year’ in the Monochrome Photography Awards 2018/2019.

Hong Kong Bedford Garden Architecture | Image courtesy of Christiaan van Heijst

The Questions

1. Can you tell us about yourself?

Having seen the views and landscapes from a little cabin window at a young age, I decided I wanted to become a pilot and managed to get my pilot license even before my drivers license.

Soon after, I was hired by my first company and in the course of years worked myself up from flying turboprop airplanes to the Boeing 737 and eventually the Boeing 747 Freighter that I fly for over nine years now.
Parallel to my flying career, my photography has grown just as fast and high. My first coffee-table book Cargopilot was published in 2016 and my work has been featured by CNN, National Geographic, BBC, TIME and many more. A taste of more to come hopefully.

2. When did you get into photography and why?

Ever since my first flights as a student pilot, I felt a longing to capture the unbelievable beauty we see from that unique perspective and I would carry a camera with me to photograph them. This enabled me to start a second career which grew parallel with my pilot career, and it’s so exciting that my photography has also been growing into a professional business.

3. Where’s your favourite place to photograph?

Alaska for the landscapes and raw nature, Hong Kong for the indescribable vibe and architecture.

4. Where are the next five places on your bucket list?

I want to visit the Moon, my ultimate destination. But closer to home I definitely want to visit Hawaii, Iceland, Australia and New Zealand.

5. What is something you miss about the Netherlands?

When Im flying all across the world, I mostly miss my family and sometimes even the dull grey weather.

6. What’s your favourite snack/meal from the Netherlands?

The typical ‘Patatje met’; fries with mayonnaise!

7. Childhood memory?

Flying for the first time as a young boy, and seeing the unbelievable scenes from the world above through my small window.

8. Favourite thing about Hong Kong?

The unique atmosphere in combination with the architecture.

9. Person you look up to (can be a celebrity/person you know).

Elon Musk.

10. What’s something you would like to learn?

Fast-reading—so that I can read more books in a shorter amount of time.

Follow Christiaan’s photography Instagram account here

Find out more about Christiaan’s Cargopilot book here

Christiaan’s Portfolio


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