Singles: Portraits of excavators

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Herd. The body shapes, the low contrast, dust in the air, and buckets waving like trunks combined to give the feeling of a family of mechanical elephants. I decided to work in monochrome for this one to reinforce that feeling and remove the distraction of color. The lead ‘elephantavator’ has deliberately slightly more contrast than its brethren.

Sometimes I make an image (or four) that doesn’t quite fit into a photoessay, but appeals to me in some way – this marks the beginning of a new series that will present just a single image or two with some thoughts as to what I saw and why they appealed – think of it as a bridge between the photoessays and something a little more explanatory. Enjoy!

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Eaten from below. This is an image that progresses from order to chaos, using a long telephoto perspective to force the foreground onto the background and give the sensation of both compression and unity into the scene, with the building being food to excavators that eventually grow large off their consumption…

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Last one left. A pack circles the final bastion of nature, waiting to scoop and destroy

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Reconciliation. Continuing with the pachydermification, a lone member of the herd nuzzles its trunk up to a cheerful bunch of flowers: to decide if edible, to seek comfort, or to appreciate beauty?

Who says machines can’t have personalities? MT


Turn the mood and style up to 11: the Hanoi Cinematic Masterclass in association with Zeiss (21-26 July and 28 July-2 August inclusive) is now open for registration – click here to book and for more information.


Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. I like them a lot. I too enjoy photographing excavators (don’t we all, secretly). Where I live, however, they are a bit more of, individualists, seldom see them in herds or socializing as in your part of the world. Thank you.

    Ps. thank you for the previous post on postprocessing workload – I slipped and have had 1,5k personal pictures waiting for a long time (I know, not much for you), finally got around to starting on them yesterday thanks to the post.

  2. These are great Ming, Last one is my favorite.

  3. I don’t know what kind of synergy you have with construction projects but they seem to bring out your best even in random B-roll like this.

  4. Hello Sifu,
    Thumbs up with your new concept.
    I like it for its simplicity and giving me the gist of why/how you went about creating the image to be what it is.
    Have a good weekend.

  5. Praneeth Rajsingh says:

    Nice to have a peek into your idea behind the images! Really like this new form of post. ‘Last one left’ was my favorite, it needed a second look to notice the plant and then identify the suggested relationship between plant and machine.

  6. Here you go Ming, from a site we did a few years back . . .

  7. Every man/boy should rent a minidigger for a day – one of the best presents you can give yourself 🙂

  8. I think it’s a boy thing. So glad I’m still a boy then despite my age. Great images Ming.

    I like the short introduction to the images since it tells the story about what made stop up to compose and take the shot. I think it adds a new dimension exploring the image.

  9. Looks like a demolition derby…who won? 🙂

  10. Watches, forest, excavators … what will be the next? May be nude?


  11. Håkan Lindgren says:

    Mmm, excavators. I liked them as a kid and I still do.

  12. Until last year, I was the John Deere photographer in this region. How I got this gig may amuse. About six or seven years ago, I was walking though Bermagui with a D2x in hand, and I spotted a crew of people standing on the weighing platform, trying to get a selfie of all of them together, and the massive fish hanging in the background, with a tiny P&S compact. I offered to make a few images; accordingly, I took a few snaps and later that day processed them and sent them on. I thought nothing more of it.

    Two or three months after, I got a phone call: “This is S. B.; I’m was the guy that caught the fish. I’m the MD of John Deere Australia. Can you photograph bulldozers?

    I relied, “Do you want to make them look menacing, or soft and cuddly?”

    A great relationship ensued. And, yes: machines can have personalities!

    • Haha – I’m not entirely surprised, to be honest. Great relationships often come out of the most unexpected circumstances…

      • MT please do delete this comment as you see fit because of the self-promotional content. With that said, thinking in the light of serendipitous collegial introductions, if a reader would benefit from connection with a small US HQ’d software development firm managed by an enthusiast of MT’s photography there may be a way to exchange a private email address.

        • Completely unnecessary, Thomas: I have retired as a professional photographer, and JD were my last major client. It is an amusing story, that’s all.

          • Ahhh, I see.
            If I cared to retire I couldn’t yet, although at this time I seem to prefer the notion to keep working right through into my last day. As it stands my firm is accepting new clients ;).
            Thanks for sharing the story and hope you’re enjoying other pursuits and some rewarding personal photography to boot.

            • Thomas, if you google me, you will see that I have always had about three-person’s worth of work my whole life. Retirement is death, to me; I stopped offering my services on the stills side last year, is all. Who would want to retire, if you are doing what you love? Only wage slaves and drones are programmed for “he/she lived happily ever after…”. Cheers, KL

  13. It’s nice to get into your mind

  14. Nice, as always!

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