At times it may be easy to see the beauty of the natural world with only the naked eye. Participants in the 2018 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition know that advanced imaging and microscope technologies help to lend more clarity and reveal the unexpected beauty of the world around us. First place was awarded to photographer Yousef Al Habshi for his image that captures part of the compound eyes and bright-greenish scales of the Asian red palm weevil. This beetle is very small at less than a half-inch in size and is found in the Philippines.

Al Habshi views the eyes as the windows into insect artwork and research. “Because of the variety of coloring and the lines that display in the eyes of insects, I feel like I’m photographing a collection of jewelry,” said Al Habshi. “Not all people appreciate small species, particularly insects. Through photomicrography we can find a whole new, beautiful world, which hasn’t been seen before. It’s like discovering what lies under the ocean’s surface.” Though this insect served as Al Habshi’s muse for the stunning photograph, weevils present infestation problems worldwide and may often destroy crops.

Al Habshi’s photography has helped advance the work of his partner, professor Claude Desplan of New York University at Abu Dhabi. His lab and Al Habshi’s photos have contributed to a better understanding of the red palm weevil and how to better control the population.

More than 128 images were stacked to create the winning entry, captured using a reflected light technique. Mastering the contrast between the dark eye of the beetle and its brightly colored scales was a test. According to Al Habshi, “The main challenge was to show the black body against the black background without overexposing the skin and scales.” He was able to strike the perfect balance by controlling the background distance from the subject and using deft lighting and sample positioning.

In addition to the overall winner, Nikon Small World recognized an additional 94 photos out of over 2,500 entries from scientists and artists in 89 countries. Images of spider embryos, mold spores, amino acid crystals and a human tear become art.

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CORRECTION: A caption in previous version of this article misidentified Anne Algar’s photo of a Daphnia (water flea) with eggs.