Camera

Photography Tip: Dutch Angle

The “Dutch angle” or “Dutch twist” it’s a technique filmmakers have used for decades. Originally it was thought that early filmmakers in Germany were inspired to use this technique by expressionist painters of the 20th century. Filmmakers, like painters before them, used this “twist” convey anxiety, tension or confusion. It is believed that there is something inherently jarring when the horizon line is not level.

The Dutch angle is less common in photography, where many believe you should never skew the horizon. Regarding the portrait specifically, its use is even less frequent. That being said, I will often use Dutch angles in my portraits. Unlike filmmakers, I don’t use it often, if ever, to convey anxiety, tension, or confusion; In fact, I use it as a composition tool, ie. to fill the space more evenly or to de-emphasize an element of the photograph, or sometimes just because it just looks better. Let me explain.

A quick side note before we get to the good stuff. The name Dutch Angle has nothing to do with the Netherlands or the Dutch. According to people who study these things, it has its roots in the fact that the German word for Germany is Deutschland. I’m not sure how, but experts believe that over time this was shortened to “Dutch Angle”. Now let’s get going.

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Case One: Fill the gap.

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In the images above I used the Dutch angle to balance the subject within the image frame. A simple distribution of “weight” with in the frame. This is, of course, an artistic choice governed by taste. Give it a try. With the resolution of modern cameras, it’s easy to shoot a little wider to give yourself some room to rotate the image in post; or if you are brave, or just like to take the photo with the camera, try it while composing your photo.

Case two: de-emphasize an element of the photo.

All of the images above have a vertical element; from left to right, the support posts, the cans and the wooden post. If left completely upright, these items can easily take your attention away from your subject or even take up too much space in the frame. Sometimes this can be a good thing, but I think if you employ a simple twist, you can sometimes take attention away from the structure or pattern and back to the subject of the shot. Particularly in the 3rd plane. When I left it upright, I felt like the wooden post became too much of the shot. By adding a simple Dutch angle to the shot, the wooden post is raised up and out of the frame, giving it much less overall weight within the shot and therefore de-emphasizing it.

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Case three: just because.

It’s self-explanatory, but sometimes, like with these images, I just give them a twist because I think it looks good.

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Therefore, the proNext time you take or even edit some portraits, try the old Dutch angle and see what you think. Bye!

*All images are property of Blackriver Photography.

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Fin.

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