There are a whole bunch of “rules” and standards in photography. Rule of thirds, golden circles, triangles, Fibonacci ratio…. and I could go on. I always enjoy seeing different compositions in photography. I also like knowing why these started being rules and standards.
One of these elements is what is called the Dutch Angle. For starters, it is not Dutch as in from the Netherlands. It is actually Deutsch, as in German. But through the years, it has come to be referred to and written as D-U-T-C-H. Wikipedia defines the Dutch Angle as:
The Dutch angle, also known as Dutch tilt, canted angle, or oblique angle, is a type of camera shot where the camera is set at an angle on its roll axis so that the shot is composed with vertical lines at an angle to the side of the frame, or so that the horizon line of the shot is not parallel with the bottom of the camera frame. This produces a viewpoint akin to tilting one’s head to the side.
In essence, it is when you tilt your camera (left or right) so that the lines that a viewer expects to see as straight (mainly the horizon line) is not level. As a viewer’s eyes and interpretation of the scene is off, this creates a sense of unease, disorientation and even madness. It is a style of composition that was first linked to old film noir and horror movies, where they would tilt the camera during some scenes to create a mood.
It is still used today in many movies, usually when the director wants to create a sense of something being off.
The Dutch angle is something you often see in photography as well. Visual arts are visual arts after all and what applies to film can easily be applied to photography. Over time, it has been wrongly linked to simply creating drama in an image. Photographers tilt their camera in hopes that an otherwise standard shot becomes more dramatic when in fact, the tilt is adding some unease in the photo, and more often than not, it is not conveying the feeling the photographer wants to convey (if any at all).
You can find a bunch of tilted camera angles in Garry Winogrand’s street photography. If you are into street photography and don’t know Winogrand’s work, look him up! Some of his stuff is inspiring and breaking down the composition and elements in his photographs is loads of fun.
His street photography collection has many images of candid moments with strangers, and in a good portion of those shots, the horizon line is tilted. It gives me a sense of nervousness in that the subject isn’t comfortable with the photo being taken and is just about to tell the photographer off in the example above and the one below.
It seems that the bigger the tilt, the more of an effect the Dutch angle can have. From a slight slide to add a mood to a 45 degree twist to really push the anxiety and instability. I have even seen some that were turned upside down, giving an odd perspective, and thankfully, the scenes don’t last very long.
But what about turning your camera to the side in concert photography? Considering there are so many things on the stage, keeping straight lines can be quite difficult. From the stage lines themselves, the drum riser, background singers, amplifiers and so on, there are many elements that a viewer’s eye expects to be straight and even the slightest twist can make things seem off.
A turned angle can give a up front guitar solo happening a more frenzied feel with slight oblique lines, or a nice change of perspective for dancers or fast movement. But done without thought (or with the sole thought that it simply adds drama), it often gives the feeling that people are going to fall off the stage as if they were on a sinking boat.
My philosophy is simple when it comes to the standard photography “rules”. Learn the rules, practice the rules, master the rules, break the rules. Doing your own thing is important. But knowing why you are doing it is even more so.