In early July 2018, photographer Gray Malin boarded a helicopter on a sunny, cloudless day, and pointed his lens down toward the beaches of Cape Cod.
The result? Striking aerial photographs showing the Cape’s sparkling waters and sandy shores from a unique vantage point. Malin released the images on his website earlier this month.
“You never know what you’re going to come across,” Malin told Boston.com. “I love when we find a sailboat. I love when we come across a really crowded beach and you’re trying to find the right angle, and maybe there’s a lifeguard stand that anchors the shot.”
Malin has been creating aerial beach photography since 2012. During that time, he has gathered a fan base, and some people requested that he shoot the Cape. Malin said he knows how special the area is to New Englanders, and it’s a significant place for him, too — he and his husband met while attending college in Boston, and they were married in Provincetown.
“I just really have a wonderful, wonderful audience who lives in Boston and New England, and I know they cherish these beaches,” he said, noting that Cape Cod provides variety for his aesthetic, from the shores of the northern Atlantic to the beaches on the bay.
During the shoot last summer, Malin photographed locales in Provincetown, Harwichport, and Chatham, among others. One beach that really caught his eye was Cahoon Hollow Beach in Wellfleet, pictured above, because of the way its dune looked from overhead. Malin said his photographs feature the interesting geometry of the beach and places that are “universally beloved.”
“You’re moving very fast through the sky, so it’s quite a thrill,” he said.
While photographing, the helicopter door is removed, which provides his camera with an unobstructed canvas. Malin is strapped in with a life-vest type device and a seat belt.
“Not to mention the wind in your face is insane,” Malin said. “You can’t wear sunglasses. You have tears.”
At the same time, Malin instructs the pilot which direction to go via a microphone.
“It’s kind of like a magic carpet ride,” he said. “You’re just floating along. You can zigzag through the air. It’s really special if you don’t have that fear of heights.”
Taking his photographs of the Cape was just the beginning. Malin said he took probably 1,600 photos that day, and half of them came out blurry because of the helicopter’s movement. He eliminated the blurry shots and narrowed down the set to about 40.
Then he began the editing process, which took months. Along the way, he considered where the photos were taken and how popular a specific area is with beachgoers.
“One thing is that a lot of people have ‘their’ beach, and you have to release a diverse grouping,” he said. “You want to try to please as many people as you can.”
Although drones have made aerial photography available to professionals and hobbyists alike, Malin described how it wasn’t as common back in 2012 when he started. He said he got the idea while overlooking a swimming pool from a hotel room.
“There were all these people laying out, splashing the water,” he said. “The water was a turquoise blue. I took my camera right up against the window and I took this shot looking down, and I made that my computer background.”
He enjoyed looking at it.
“One day the lightbulb went off in my head,” he said.
Soon afterward, he attended an art convention in Miami. He went to different hotels and asked if he could go on the roof and photograph their pools from high above. A lot of places turned him down.
Then came the helicopter idea. After some searching, he was soaring above Miami, looking for interesting aerial shots of pools. But it rained, and no one was lounging. Malin felt defeated — until he looked to the shoreline. The pilot agreed to fly over the Miami beaches, and Malin took about 30 shots, he said. From there, he began traveling and shooting beaches around the world.
Malin said he hopes that people who view his work are reminded of the happiness the beach brings.
“I hope these images evoke that feeling one has when they’re on the beach, and people enjoy them, to look at them, and to long and lust for that all year long, even on the coldest days because we all know how cold it gets,” he said.