Wouter Kingma, a creative filmmaker and photographer (left) with Mark Shadwell, a researcher talk about the making of Gulf News 2019 calendar. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News

Dubai: A stunning new calendar featuring the falcon, the national bird of the UAE, has been published by Gulf News, the region’s leading daily newspaper.

‘Masters of the Sky’ showcases 12 unique photographs of falcons in the UAE, composed by acclaimed Dutch photographer Wouter Kingma. The new 2019 Gulf News calendar also narrates both salient and subtle knowledge about the graceful winged hunters.

The incredibly glossy and vividly colourful falcons appear in dramatic contrast against the deep black background, creating an almost 3D effect on the calendar. Meanwhile, set in special gold, the Arabian-inspired patterns decorate the edge of the pages and lend an enhanced distinction to the text.

Gulf News subscribers were sent on December 31 a wall-calendar featuring an imposing image of one of the falcons, along with the day’s paper.

Every year, Gulf News publishes a calendar based on a set theme (last year it was Arabic calligraphy). The latest 2019 edition is dedicated to the falcon, which has a centuries-old relationship with the Arabs, especially with the Bedouins, who recruited the predator in hunting small game.

Close bond

Many Emiratis continue to forge a close bond with their feathered companions, regarding them as a family member and expressing great pride in their ownership. Falconry is also a traditional sport and cultural experience offered in the UAE.

The beauty of falcons has been brought out in rich detail by Kingma, who travelled across the UAE for more than two years to capture the right shots, when he was commissioned for a separate project.

The results are well worth the lengths Kingma went to — lugging around a mini studio, waiting for months for the falcons to display a fresh set of feathers, and getting the birds to strike a pose.

‘Falcon model’

“I work a lot with people and some people love the camera; they just sit down and feel comfortable. And some people are like, ‘just get me out of here’. With falcons, I felt a very similar thing. Some of them would get nervous — the camera flash is very distracting — and you quickly sense, ‘well, that’s not going to work’. But there was this falcon, he just loved it. He stood there and turned around — he makes for a professional falcon model,” said Kingma, a Dubai-based professional freelance photographer.

I wanted to bring alive the character of the falcon. When you go through the images, they are all very different, obviously in colours and feathers, but also very different in composition.

- Wouter Kingma, Photographer behind Gulf News’ 2019 calendar

“I wanted to bring alive the character of the falcon. When you go through the images, they are all very different, obviously in colours and feathers, but also very different in composition.”

‘Sheer drama’

Naheed Patel, promotions manager at Gulf News, said the pictures and design have come together beautifully in the calendar’s falcon theme.

“We’ve been wanting to do falcons for a long time but we didn’t know of anybody who would do justice to it, to the way it’s come through. The colour pictures have brought the calendar alive and we went a little bold and looked at just black as the background — it is just sheer drama,” Patel said.

The annual calendar, which is printed by Gulf News, is developed in partnership with Promoseven 360, the house agency for Al Nisr Publishing (the publisher of Gulf News).

Once a concept for the calendar is approved, the agency executes the design, layout, research and copy for the calendar.

Kingma was approached by Promoseven 360 for his photographs of falcons. Shahbaz Zobeiri, executive creative director of Promoseven 360, selected the photographs and the black and gold design.

Bold design

Explaining the black and gold theme, Mark Shadwell, also executive creative director at Promoseven 360, said: “The falcon is a noble bird and we wanted to bring out the nobility of the bird. There is also that inherent link to Arab culture, hence the dark and dramatic black-and-gold, and the Arabic patterns.”

Apart from the Masters of the Sky calendar, the black-and-gold theme also flows on Gulf News notebooks and envelops for 2019.

Did you know?

The falcon is the only animal in the UAE allowed to travel in the first or business class. They even have their own passport.

The falcon is the national bird and is on the coat of arms of the UAE. There are seven feathers on the falcon, each representing one emirate.

The Saqr and Peregrine falcons are the most renowned, and commonly found in the UAE (although they are not native to the country).

Female falcons are bigger and more highly prized for falconry than male falcons.

Some falcons can reach speeds in excess of 320km/h when diving at prey, making them the fastest creatures on the planet.