Masters of Microscopy

Yousef Al Habshi on Capturing the Jewels of the Insect World

Welcome to Masters of Microscopy: The People Behind the Lens, where we showcase and celebrate the individuals who are the heart of the Nikon Small World competitions. They are scientists, artists, researchers, educators and everyday curious individuals who uncover the fascinating microscopic world around us.

Yousef Al Habshi

What started as a self-taught hobby and an interest in the colorful faces of insects has landed Emirati photographer Yousef Al Habshi a coveted spot among the first place winners of the Nikon Small World competition. The photographer first placed in the competition in 2016, being awarded two images of distinction that year and another in 2017 before landing the top spot in the 2018 contest. His winning image captures part of the compound eyes and surrounding greenish scales of a weevil, which is a type of beetle.

While he also has an eye for capturing landscapes, people, and cities, Al Habshi’s favorite subject matter is insects. He often travels to new locations in order to photograph new species. Capturing the beauty and intricate details of insects can be difficult, according to Al Habshi. The key to taking a great insect photo, he says, is to consider small details like type and quality of light sources, subject cleanliness and dust in the air while shooting. Additionally, it is important to make sure the eye is not damaged or dehydrated.

Eye of a Metapocyrtus subquadrulifer beetle (First Place, 2018 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition)

Yousef remembers the moment he first decided to get into photography. While spending his days perusing the beautiful images taken by others as a graphics editor, he decided he wanted to try and learn to take photos himself. He was inspired by the idea that beauty existed everywhere, and you didn’t need to be a professional to show that beauty to others.

He read books about the field of photography, studied different techniques, and became passionate about both macro- and micro-photography in the year 2010 shortly after purchasing his first camera.

Yousef found himself entering the world of microscopy when he realized he couldn’t capture all of the details he wanted to with just a macro lens, particularly when capturing insects. He added micro accessories and microscope objectives to his cameras and began exploring the world of microscopy.

“In general, people fear insects or at least find them disgusting,” says Al Habshi. “But they don’t understand how important insects are in our lives. It is a fact that all of us – animals and humans – would not survive if there were no insects. I want to show people there is a different side to these creatures, that they can be beautiful too.”

Ready for my close-up: Al Habshi photographs an insect up close.

Al Habshi has won over two dozen awards on the international and local level, including winning first place for two consecutive years (2012 & 2013) at the Emirates International Photography Contest. His photographs have been featured in several local newspapers and specialized photography magazines around the world including National Geographic Al Arabiya.

Al Habshi doesn’t spend all his time behind the lens, either. Since venturing into photography, he has lead workshops for other budding photographers and also been asked to judge other photography contests, including working with the Abu Dhabi ­Tourism & Culture Authority initiative tied to the annual ­Emirates ­Photography ­Competition. He was one of the creative talents assisting the country’s photography enthusiasts in a series of hands-on ­workshops.

In addition to his professional photography, Al Habshi often works with universities and graduate students, sharing his images of insects to be used in research and specialized studies. He has collaborated with Professor Claude Desplan from New York University Abu Dhabi, who studies the visual systems of fruit fly Drosophila and other pests. His lab has contributed to a deeper understanding of eye patterning and photoreceptors. Al-Habshi launched an exhibit titled “Little Monsters” in the Project Space at NYUAD in 2016, and is currently working on another project with Desplan that is studying how to control the Red Palm weevil invasion worldwide.

The “Little Monsters” Exhibition in 2016

When Al Habshi isn’t perfecting his photography craft, he enjoys reading and collecting stamps & ancient coins. You would never guess by looking at his accolades, but for Al Habshi, photography is a hobby. When he’s not capturing the unseen world, he works as an IT systems analyst in the petroleum industry.

His advice to other aspiring artists? “Keep reading, practicing and have a lot of patience. Never give up easily and know your equipment well, oh and try to understand the lighting.”

You can see more of Al Habshi’s work on his website or at Nikon Small World.

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