The “Dutch Angle” or “Dutch Twist” is a technique film makers have used for decades. It’s originally thought that early film makers in Germany were inspired to use this technique from expressionist painters of the 20th century. Film makers, like the painters before them, used this “twist” to convey anxiety, tension or confusion. It is thought that there is something inherently jarring when a horizon line is not level.
The Dutch Angle is less common in photography where many believe that you should never skew your horizon. As for portraiture specifically it’s use is even less prevalent. That said, I will often use Dutch Angles in my portraits. Unlike filmmakers I do not often, if ever use it to convey anxiety, tension or confusion; I actually use it as a composition tool, ie. to fill space more evenly or to deemphasize an element of photograph, or sometimes just because it simply 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 people. According to the people that study such things it has it’s roots in the fact that the German word for Germany is Deutschland. Not sure how but experts believe that over time this got shortened to “Dutch Angle”. Now let’s get going.
Case One: Filling the space.
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In the above images I used the Dutch Angle to balance the subject within the framing of the image. 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 wide to give yourself some space to rotate your image in post; or if you’re brave, or just like to get the shot in camera give it a go while your composing your shot.
Case Two: Deemphasize an element of the photo.
All of the images above have a vertical element to them; from left to right, the support poles, the cans and the wooden post. If left completely vertical these elements can easily draw attention away from the subject or even become too much of the framing. Sometimes this can be a good thing but I find that if you employ a simple twist it can sometimes draw attention away from the structure or pattern pulling it back to the subject of the shot. Particularly in the 3rd shot. When left upright I felt the wooden post became too much of the shot. Adding a simple Dutch Angle to the shot draws the wooden post up and out of frame giving it much less overall weight within the shot thus deemphasizing it.
Case Three: Just because.
Pretty self explanatory, but sometimes, as with these images I simply give them a twist because I think it looks nice.
So, next time you’re shooting or even editing some portraits give the old Dutch Angle a try and see what you think. Ciao!
*All images property of Blackriver Photograpy.
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