How To Shoot Dutch Angle Photographs

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Ah, the Dutch. Of course, I could trot off a whole battery of generic stereotypes about the Dutch but there would be no point. You see the Dutch angle, aka the Dutch tilt has nothing to do with the people of the Netherlands. It is in fact a bastardization of the word “Deutsch”. This is, of course, the German word for German. 

The Dutch angle is, in fact, a cinematic technique. However, as you know, cinema and still photography are very close cousins. The techniques used in film making will often translate well to photography. Today, we are going to delve into the mysteries of the Dutch angle. Where it came from, what it is and how you can use it to spice up your photography. 

Smartly dressed man shot in a Dutch Angle style
The Dutch angle can create a feeling of unease. By Nadezhda Diskant on Pexels

The Origins Of The Dutch Angle

The origins of the Dutch angle are rooted in the German Expressionism movement of the 1920s. The concept was to use a canted angle where the camera has been rotated relative to the horizon. 

The Dutch tilt was used by filmmakers to convey a sense of unease, unrest, in order to disorientate the viewer. One of the first recorded uses of the Dutch Angle was by Dziga Vertov in his documentary, Man With A Movie Camera.

The Dutch Angle In Hollywood

Of the Hollywood directors perhaps the most famous, early proponent of the oblique angle was Alfred Hitchcock. He used the Dutch angle in a number of his early films but if there is one film that took Dutch angle shots to a new level, it was The Third Man. 

Hitchcock used these angle shots to great effect on his main protagonist. This was to give the feeling of being an outsider in a world that he did not understand.

More light-hearted use of the Dutch angle was in the original Batman TV series. In that, the bad guys were often shot at a canted angle to show their evil intent. 

Cinematic church scene shot with Dutch Angle
A cinematic use of the Dutch angle to convey mystery. By Daniele Colucci on Unsplash

Why Shoot A Dutch Angle

As we know, in cinematography shooting a Dutch tilt is used to give a sense of unease. So what about its use in photography? A canted angle in a still image can still be used to give that sense of dread or unease. Of course, we lack the motion aspect of the shot. However, by choosing our angle and background carefully we can generate that same emotion.

There are, however, other reasons to use the Dutch angle in photographs. It is commonly used in portraiture when you have subjects of different heights. It’s used in fashion, architecture, travel, and street photography. 

Dutch Angle portrait of man with reflection in the mirror
A clever use of the Dutch angle in portraiture. By Jake Ryan on Pexels.

An angled camera shot can be used to draw attention to a subject or to eliminate distractions from a shot. Using the Dutch angle can be a way to shoot taller buildings and induce converging verticals. A canted camera angle looks more deliberate, more composed than a shot with obvious converging verticals. 

More Uses Of The Dutch Angle

The Dutch angle is often used in street style fashion photography, especially when shooting full-length portraits. By angling the shot and including some interesting foreground, the viewer's eye is immediately drawn to the model and not their surroundings. 

The Dutch angle can provoke the viewer to think more about a particular image. They question why the photographer has used this particular camera technique. What story or mood is the photographer trying to convey?

Dramatic Dutch Angle shot of man inside ice cave.
This clever use of the Dutch tilt uses multiple compositional techniques. By Roman Adintsov on Pexels

In photography, the Dutch angle can help us separate the subject from the background. This is particularly true if you shoot from a low vantage point.

How To Compose A Dutch Angle Shot

Shooting Dutch angle can feel very counterintuitive, especially to newcomers in photography. We are told from day one of our photographic journeys that the horizon should always be straight, never at an angle. We are taught that if we accidentally get our horizon skewed, we should always try to correct it in post-production. Now we are learning about the Dutch angle and how to deliberately take such ”angled shots”. 

I think a good way to think of the Dutch angle shot is not as a compositional rule but as a way to complement or even break the traditional rules. You can and should still apply compositional rules to your shots and then tilt the camera for the Dutch angle. If that works well with the composition you have chosen – that's great! If the angle breaks the composition but still looks like the winning shot then that’s fine too. The only time you should step back is if the angled shot is both breaking the composition and not looking good through the viewfinder. Then it’s time to rethink.

Dutch Angle Guidelines

  • First of all, be deliberate with your Dutch angle shots. A slight tilt in a landscape shot might look like a simple compositional error. On the other hand, a shot taken at a very steep angle might look far too contrived. There is no hard and fast rule – it is simply a matter of looking through the viewfinder and analyzing the scene.
  • Your lens choice is very important. As a rule of thumb, wider lenses are going to work better than telephoto lenses. The wider, deeper perspective that wide-angle lenses provide help emphasize the camera angles. 
  • Another vital factor in your Dutch angle shots is the background. If the camera is tilted but there is nothing in the background to suggest that the camera is at an angle, then the exercise is pointless. A good Dutch angle shot will have defined lines in the background. This could be the horizon, verticals, or edge of a building. Without them, there is no reference point. 
  • Try the same shot with various angles. As mentioned, the Dutch angle is not a fixed angle. You should feel free to experiment.
  • Do not rely on post-production to get the tilted shot right. 
  • Shoot handheld for a more spontaneous look. Shoot from a tripod to give a more conceived look. 
Yacht sailing on a tilted horizon
A Dutch angle shot should look deliberate. Here the boat just appears to be sailing downhill. By Szelei Robert on Pexels
Young girl running on beach with beautiful white horse. Shot with Dutch Tilt.
In this shot, the Dutch angle is clearly intended. By Nick Bondarev on Pexels

Getting Creative With Dutch Angle

As we have seen, the Dutch angle should be seen as a supplement to composition, not part of a compositional rule. There are some compositional rules that work really well with the Dutch tilt. The main ones are the rule of thirds and leading lines.

Keeping your subject on one of the thirds and then applying the Dutch angle can give your shot a feeling of space. This space allows the viewer to see the juxtaposition of the framing and the horizon.

Dutch angle shot of man on travelator with Dutch Angle
A clever use of the Dutch Angle with leading lines. By Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Leading lines work great, especially in low angle shots. Getting down and using the ground as a leading line for your Dutch tilt is a great way to engage the viewer.

Long exposure scenes, particularly the ones with moving clouds or water, can work really well in Dutch angle shots. The angle of the shot can juxtapose to the surreal calmness of the scene in a powerful way.

Another creative technique that works well in Dutch angle shots is the slow shutter speed zoom. This is where you deliberately zoom during the actual exposure. Slow shutter speed zoom can give a great sense of dynamism. 

The Conclusion 

Dutch angle shots are a relatively simple but effective way to elevate your photography. Experiment with angles and try combining different compositional rules with the Dutch angle. Try breaking the compositional rules too.

The most important thing about shooting a Dutch angle is that there must be a reason for it. Ask yourself if tilting the camera will make the shot better. If it will, then go for it!

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Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

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