Nothing conjures fantasies of relaxing on white sand beneath a red-hot sun with the sound of crashing waves like Gray Malin’s photos. These vibrant, take-me-there beach images captured in places from Sydney to St. Barts have earned Malin a reputation as one of the world’s foremost aerial photographers.
The inspiration for his trademark shots came to Malin while staying at The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas in 2011. “It all started in a top-floor hotel room that had a bird's-eye view of the giant resort swimming pool below filled with people,” he says. “I snapped an image that became my computer screensaver, and after months of staring at this sparkling aqua-colored pool, the idea hit me.”
Now the established fine-arts photographer has 23 photo series; a best-selling book, Beaches; a lifestyle brand and a new collection of dreamy wave-filled photographs to spark ideas on sandy getaways. As the Los Angeles resident gears up for summer, his busiest travel season, he chatted with Forbes Travel Guide about the latest places he’s visited, his favorite beaches and where he plans to go next.
What made you choose Italy, Hawaii and Cape Town as destinations in your latest photos?
Italy is one of my favorite destinations to photograph. My first Italy-focused series was “La Dolce Vita,” which was shot from the ground. As anyone who’s visited the coastline of Italy knows, they truly are living the good life while taking in the stunning surroundings offered by this country.
For my most recent release, “Italian Geometric,” I focused my lens high above the coastline of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, shooting from a door-less helicopter.
Unlike the Amalfi Coast and Capri, these beaches are wide and flat, stretching along for miles. In particular, though, these beaches are lined with thousands of umbrellas belonging to hundreds of different private beach clubs. I was completely mesmerized during the creation of both series, since they are two completely different perspectives.
As for Cape Town, I absolutely love South Africa. It’s a fabulous country to visit as it has beautiful white-sand beaches, wine country and adventurous safari experiences available all in one visit. It should be a must on anyone’s bucket list, and I hope that my beach aerials from Cape Town inspire people to make the trip.
Lastly, Hawaii was an easy decision to make when it came to adding to my aerial beach collection, “À la Plage.” The beaches of the Hawaiian Islands are globally renowned, so I knew that this new collection of images would strike a chord with so many beach lovers.
While traveling in these areas, what were some of your highlights?
Whenever I travel somewhere new, I love to do as the locals do as much as possible. For example, in Cape Town, I visited some of the public pools that are epically located right off the coast, like Sea Point and Camps Bay.
Then, while in Viareggio and Forte Dei Marmi, the thing to do is purchase a day pass to one of the numerous beach clubs. You can post up with your very own umbrella and lounger, and then simply take the day in a stride from a local’s point of view.
What are your favorite beaches to shoot?
There are so many to choose from, but I think my most recent favorite is Byron Bay, Australia. This boho beach town is the perfect mix of surf and leisure with epic views. It really stole my heart.
We saw on Instagram that you recently visited Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Montage Laguna Beach. In the caption, you said you always dreamed of staying at the hotel.
Living in Los Angeles, you hear rumors about the best spots to stay that are within a few hours’ drive of the city, and Montage Laguna Beach has been whispered to me many times.
I have had the pleasure to stay at the Montage in Deer Valley, so it was so nice to finally get a chance to experience the Laguna location, and I can assure you the rumors are true.
What are your favorite hotels?
For the beach, Cape View Clifton in Cape Town is an amazing experience from beginning to end. They really seal the deal with the best views of Clifton Beach in town.
For some great wine and food, I love San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara.
In the desert, I am a devotee of Parker Palm Springs, which is where I shot my series aptly named “Gray Malin at the Parker.” Then for a chillier experience, I recommend the breathtaking Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
What draws you to taking aerial shots?
All of my aerial series, including “À la Plage,” “À La Montagne” and “Au Parc,” are about escapism. Whether it is capturing the joyfulness of being at the beach for a day of sun, fresh powder on the slopes during a winter holiday or catching a little relaxation on the weekend in a city park, I hope my aerial images whisk you away to a place you love.
What is in your beach tote bag?
An oversized beach towel, a good book, a People Magazine, Kate Somerville skincare products, my camera and an extra pair of sunglasses, since I seem to lose mine all the time!
Where are you traveling to this summer?
I’m heading back to Italy and the South of France as well as visiting Lake Como for the first time, which I’m really looking forward to!
I have a wedding in southern Sweden, which I'm thrilled to attend since I've never been to Scandinavia. Lastly, I'll be spending time in the Hamptons as well as Nantucket and Lake Michigan.
What is on your travel bucket list?
I recently just completed a trip to Bolivia, and it has intrigued my curiosity to explore South America some more. Perhaps Argentina will be next.