Gray Malin’s top 3 tips for building an Instagram following

  • In the past decade, travel photographer Gray Malin went from selling his photos at a flea market to bringing in as much as $15,000 for them.
  • Malin’s journey was in part dictated by his Instagram, and he shared three tips for fellow photographers looking to build an audience.
  • Malin says you should pick one thing and do it well, find your aesthetic by trial and error, and listen to your followers.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It’s hard to believe that travel photographer Gray Malin’s Instagram first kicked off with photos of his dog.

The 34-year-old joined the platform in 2012 for “fun and silliness,” Malin told Business Insider. By the end of 2013, his pictures of his dog and his travels had garnered him 10,000 followers.

Today, Malin’s Instagram boasts a carefully curated aesthetic that whisks 412,000 followers around the world, from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the beaches of Capri. 

Instagram has played a key role in Malin’s journey from flea market artist to travel photographer. His lifestyle brand now sells everything from wallpaper to beach towels, in addition to photographs and a New York Times best-selling coffee table book. Depending on print size, his art ranges from $249 to $14,999.

He shared with Business Insider his top tips for photographers looking to build a name for themselves on Instagram.

1. Zero in your focus

Malin’s top tip is to pick something that you like and do it well.

For example, he said, “You’re shooting clouds, you’re trying every day to shoot clouds, and you’re showing those pictures of clouds. You’re going to get known for that.” 

Focusing on one thing and mastering it, he said, can be very powerful on Instagram in helping you grow a following. For Malin, that began with his famous aerial beach photographs.

A post shared by Gray Malin | Photographer (@graymalin)


Malin said he often sees photographers trying to replicate what they see other photographers doing, but then the subjects of those photos become commonplace. 

“You’re going to build an audience if you focus on something and build upon it,” he said.

2. Try trial and error 

Malin’s Instagram feed has partly captivated its audience because it dances with color, joy, and whimsy.

To develop your own unique aesthetic, he suggests trying to trial and error your way through different ideas, and continuing with the ones that seem to resonate. “Try different things, but if something is working, continue with it,” he said. “Don’t give up.”

“That’s how you build a fine art series, you have to continue to evolve,” he added. Malin said that every photography project is different, with some taking a longer time than others to master. 

“Anyone any day can reinvent the wheel,” he said. “That’s the beauty of creativity.”

3. Listen to your followers

Once you begin to see steady growth, listen to what your followers want to see in terms of content. Malin turned to his growing followership for photography direction.

“I was starting to really listen to my audience and learn from them,” he said. “If I posted something and it got a huge reaction, I knew that was something they would want to see more of.” 

A post shared by Gray Malin | Photographer (@graymalin)


If he posted something and it didn’t do well, Malin added, it taught him that he should try something different. He said people often left comments on his photos asking him to shoot in a certain location, like Cape Cod, one day.

“It helped me decide where I want to shoot next,” he said.

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