Gray Malin’s Aerial Artistry


GRAY MALIN presents BEACHES (Abrams): a parade of bold, enticing coasts, as snapped across six continents. Here, we chat with the photographer known for his refreshing, sunny aerials—a talent who proves as cheery and inspiring as his work:

Q: What inspired your book, BEACHES (Abrams)?

A: The book is the embodiment of my largest collection, “À la Plage,” which is the aerial beach collection. BEACHES (Abrams) documents the past five years of my travels to 20 cities across six continents. The goal of the work and, ultimately, the book is to transport the viewer to the world’s most luxurious beaches.

Though the idea originated from a swimming pool in Las Vegas the beach aspect first began above the shores of Miami during Art Basel in 2011, quickly followed up with trips to Australia, Rio, Dubai and Europe in 2012 and 2013- I was hooked on capturing this global project from the beginning and it’s been a total whirlwind since!

Q: What was the process for these pictures?

A: I think that a lot of times people assume my work is shot with a drone or perhaps simply created on a computer, but it’s really me going up in a doorless helicopter and leaning out of the side to capture beautiful timeless imagery. Every time I go up is different as every beach has its personality, from the crowded sand of Rio de Janeiro to the more private beaches of Saint Tropez. But one thing is for sure: it’s always beautiful. From above, the people with their umbrellas and towels create patterns that are eye-catching and unique.

Q: What were your favorite destinations to photograph?

A: This is such a hard question but I have to say the beaches of Cape Town and the beaches of St. Barth. For me, though, Cape Town is the whole package. Beyond being a truly awe-inspiring country, it has the most beautiful rugged coasts, incredible wildlife, and a world-class, breathtaking wine country—it’s a must for anyone’s bucket list. I am so taken with it that I actually have been back twice since my first trip in 2013.

I love Grand Saline Beach in St. Barth, which is hanging behind the front desk of Montauk’s own Surf Lodge (which hosts other “À la Plage” images in the newly renovated rooms).

Q: What differentiates the beaches from place to place? 

A: Yes, the geography is of course different from beach to beach. Lisbon, Portugal, is very interesting with a range of rugged, rocky beaches for surfing to more family- and sunbather-friendly locations. The sand color ranges from the white sand of Dubai and Mexico to the almost dark bronze sand of a San Francisco nude beach , which leads me to topless sunbathers: It’s probably most prominent in Europe, like in Barcelona (which coincidently inspired my apron collaboration with Hedley & Bennett). 

When it comes to water, I must say I have always loved the shade of emerald of the water in “Hamptons Lone Swimmer” and then, of course, the vivid blues from the Italian coast, which holds my heart when it comes to umbrellas. There are just so many beach clubs that consume the coast with their umbrellas that when I go up in the helicopter to photograph, I’m literally dizzy with all of the stunning pops of colors along with neutral tones lining the beaches below.

Q: What was your impression of the Hamptons?

A: The Hamptons are just so classic from above and from the ground. I have close friends who own a house in Southampton, so I have spent a lot of time there strolling Main Street and dining at Red Bar. One of my favorite activities to do is rent a bike from Rotations and take a leisurely ride along Gin Lane, taking in all of the beautiful homes. Another very fun day is to charter a boat with a captain for you and your group to cruise around for the day.

My most recent trip to the Hamptons was to Montauk. I definitely recommend taking in the sunset at Navy Beach for the evening and then splurging on a daybed at Gurney’s Beach Club for a music-filled day in the sun. As far as hotels go, I had the pleasure of staying at Surf Lodge, which recently refreshed its imagery to utilize “À la Plage” as the exclusive artwork in their 20 rooms. This is such a cool and unique place, so it was a thrill to experience in person after working so closely with the lovely owner, Jayma Cardoso, and with interior designer, Fiona Byrne.  I would highly recommend anyone to stay there or, at the very least, stop in for a delicious bite. If you’re there on a Sunday, enjoy the live music that happens outside on the sand in the evenings featuring bands like Oh Wonder.

Q: What has to happen for an aerial picture to be compelling?

A: There is always an element of danger with these shoots because you’re at the whim of the weather (particularly the wind). I used to get scared but it’s more of a thrill now and all part of the fun. I will say that flying hundreds of miles an hour while the wind is whipping you in the face and tears are streaming down your cheeks makes it all the more challenging to capture that perfect moment. I also manually shoot so I have to toggle the aperture and shutter speed all while I’m dangling out of the door!

Q:What about your work resonates with so many people?

A: The type of work I like to create is approachable with a bit of unexpected whim, which people connect to and incorporate into their own lives. It’s about capturing a moment in time that evokes a sense of adventure and joy. Whether it’s a place that you have fond memories of or it’s a dream getaway destination, to have a piece of artwork that takes you there just by looking at your wall is pretty incredible, don’t you think?

Q: What artists and other creatives have inspired your work?

A: I am a huge admirer of Gaston Ugalde, who mentored me during my shoot in Bolivia for my series, “Far Far Away.” I just adore his whole demeanor and his vision. He’s a true artist. Then in, rapid fire, I would say I love Slim Aarons for his timeless and luxurious photographs; Christo and Jeanne-Claude for their forward-thinking and structural work; and lastly David LaChapelle for his artistic editorial vision that’s so grand yet so relatable.

My focus is creating a moment in time that the viewer wants to live within. Some concepts take years of planning while some take only months but, regardless of the time frame, all of my collections have their own personality and stories that aim to be timeless. Each concept ignites an adventure, traversing the globe to bring my inspired visions to life with the ultimate goal of hanging an incredible moment on one’s walls for years to come and enjoy. u

For more information about Gray Malin and his book, BEACHES (Abrams), visit