Hasan Alhamada takes days to make a insect magnificent


“By showing how beautiful and complex their body is, I think people will start to appreciate it more,” said Hasan Alhamada from Saudi Arabia. A computer programmer specializing in designing business brochures, he got into macro photography by trying unsuccessfully to create a flower using software. He hopes his photography can help people better understand the role of insects in the ecosystem.

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Creepy crawlies and I’m not doing well together. Having to dissect insects in a lab was one of the reasons I chose not to study biology in high school. Having to observe mosquitoes under a high powered microscope in middle school probably helped me move away from insects in general. Hasan has no such qualms and visually embraces all that these insects have to offer, at magnifications so great that most of us would run away from looking at them. It’s not an easy job, however. Each of these creatures is carefully posed, almost as you would a real person. Not everyone would agree with some of the ethics practiced behind macro photography of insects. But there is no doubt that photographers like Hasan are helping us see these tiny beings in a whole new light. Hasan was very excited when I contacted him for an interview about his macro work.

Essential photo equipment used by Hasan Alhamada

Hassan told us:

In this type of photography you have to be a great handyman as much of the equipment either does not exist or is very expensive so tape and the various tools are part of the daily routine of any extreme macro photographer.

The phoblographer: Tell us about yourself and how you got into photography.

Hassan Alhamada: I am a programmer, trainer and macro photographer. My love of photography started 23 years ago via Photoshop; I used to design brochures and advertisements with Photoshop. Then one day I came across a photo of a flower with a blurry background. With my designer ego, I tried to reproduce the effect with no real success. A friend of mine told me that this only happens with the lens, not with Photoshop (there was no AI back then). From that moment on, I forgot about the design and my life became happier.

A beetle.  It took 1,159 frames and 3 parts to get the whole body of this wonderful insect.

A beetle. It took 1,159 frames and 3 parts to get the whole body of this wonderful insect.

Le Phoblographe: When did you decide to specialize in extreme macro photography? What was the tipping factor?

Hassan Alhamada: I love challenges and have always been fascinated by details. I need to reveal more details in my photos to show the invisible. Insects have always been the underdog. By showing how beautiful and complex their bodies are, I think people will start to appreciate them more and learn more about their important role in the ecosystem. Seeing the details of a butterfly wing under a microscope was a tipping factor for me to try and share this beauty with the public.

Peacock feather - 20x magnification

Peacock feather – 20x magnification

The Phoblographer: I would love to see the macro rig you have. Could you walk us through your workflow for one of your favorite images.

Hassan Alhamada: The process begins once I have decided which insect is next on the list. First of all, I have to relax the joints of the legs and antennae of the insect with the help of a special liquid, and this step takes 2-6 days depending on the degree of dryness of the insect and the type insect. Then place the insect on a sheet of moss in the required position and leave it for another three to four days to [set into] position. The next step is physical cleaning to remove any dirt, especially in the eyes. After that, we had to cram and position it so that we could start taking pictures. At the stage of photography, it is essential to use a good diffuser. It is essential to use an electronic stacking device because each step can be as small as 5 µm in high magnification shots like the peacock feather or butterfly wing.

After taking all the images, I use the Affinity photo app to create a single image with all the focus points merged. I know a lot of photographers use specialized apps for this step, but for me, I think Affinity Photo gets the job done. The final step is to clean the insect sample of any dirt that remains after the physical cleaning and then correct the color and white balance issues in the photo.

Le Phoblographe: Do you only work with dead insects or do you also photograph live insects?

Hassan Alhamada: For extreme macro fields, any kind of shaking and / or movement is not allowed, so caring for live insects is not on the table. I know photographers only work at night after everyone is sleeping in the house, so no one creates vibration when walking nearby, and others turn off the air conditioner for the same reason. Stacking with magnification (1: 1) is possible for living insects, especially in the early morning or in cold weather, but anything above 1: 1 is impractical.

Antlion larva - 4x magnification

Antlion larva – 4x magnification

Le Phoblographe: There have been cases of macro photographers freezing insects in order to make them immobile for their macro photography. Would you say it’s more ethical than killing an insect for the same thing?

Hassan Alhamada: I don’t think freezing bugs is more ethical, especially if a lot of them die in the process and it’s a long cold [route to] death. For my part, I recover some of my already dead samples; you might get a lot of it during heat waves, and I get some from collectors. I admit that I do kill a few bugs, but I consider it a good reason, as do the lab rats. In my opinion, it’s ethical if it’s for a good cause and shows beauty; and insect awareness is a good reason.

Butterfly wing - 20x magnification

Butterfly wing – 20x magnification

The phoblographer: is there a lot of focus stacking and post-processing required? Storing and managing files has to be a real headache.

Hassan Alhamada: It totally depends on the level of magnification the subject needs; the bigger we get, the more depth of field we have and therefore the more pictures we need to get everything in focus. The other factor is that if we want to photograph the insect in one part or photograph each part alone, use the panorama method to merge them. So sometimes I take more than a thousand images for a single insect and sometimes 40-60 images. Then stacking and color editing can begin.

I’m still having issues with storing my files. Last week I bought Cloud Storage and moved most of my gallery there. Then I ran into a connection problem, and almost lost everything. Everything has been stable since.

Blue weevil.  It took over 3,000 photos and 10 parts to get the details of this beetle.

Blue weevil. It took over 3,000 photos and 10 parts to get the details of this beetle.

Le Phoblographe: What are the most difficult insects to photograph? Which would you recommend newbies to start with?

Hassan Alhamada: Jewel beetles are very difficult to photograph because of their reflective bodies. Sometimes I spend a week doing things right. Butterflies are also difficult to photograph due to the long preparation process. flies and bees are much easier to photograph, especially if it is just the head of the insect

Ladybug - 3.7x magnification

Ladybug – 3.7x magnification

Le Phoblographe: The colors, the symmetry, the smallest details in each of them. Sometimes you marvel at these creatures as you photograph them. What is the feeling?

Hassan Alhamada: Seeing how a single scale is attached to the wing of the butterfly and how very similar it is to how the feather is attached to the wing of the bird makes me feel the harmony in nature.

Sometimes you can’t visualize the end result until you do the post processing and stacking, like the time I saw a small larva on the butterfly wing or when I found a single scale on the wing of the butterfly. In these moments, you realize that what you miss is more than what you see. Seeing the details of a beetle claw makes me wonder what could happen if the beetle was the same size as a man.

Scarab claw - 8x magnification

Scarab claw – 8x magnification

The Phoblographer: Most of the world treats insects as parasites. Do you think that if we saw them more closely we would understand them better?

Hassan Alhamada: It is one of my main goals to photograph insects. They are always underestimated; everyone considers them to be pests, even if they play an important role in the ecosystem and the food chain. Humans value honey bees as pollinators but not flies, even though flies are the second most common natural pollinator. I’m sure anyone who sees these enlarged little creatures will fall in love.

Ladybug - 5x magnification

Ladybug – 5x magnification

The Phoblographer: Do you have friends who ask you why you don’t prefer more common subjects to photograph? Besides insects, what else do you like to photograph up close?

Hassan Alhamada: My wife definitely has this question, a lot of my friends have it too, and one of them ditched me on Instagram. Besides insects, I try to do astrophotography and photography of small planets (360).

Butterfly wing - 8x magnification

Butterfly wing – 8x magnification

All images by Hasan Alhamada Used with permission. Visit his Instagram and 500px pages to see more of his macro work.

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