For most photographers and filmmakers, making sure that the horizon is level is of vital importance… Usually. This is mostly because any deviation from the norm looks like an accident. Like we don’t know what we’re doing. But it is possible to tilt the camera intentionally with both photography and filmmaking for added emphasis or effect depending on the shot you’re after.
We call this a Dutch Angle. But what is it? Why do people use it? How and why did it start? And how can we implement it effectively in our work? This fascinating video from the folks at Vox looks at the history of the Dutch Angle and how we can use it in our work. And it probably appears in a lot more movies than you realise.
The technique doesn’t actually come from the movies or photography but in fine art. But it’s not actually Dutch. It’s Deutsch. As in German. When foreign movie imports were banned during World War I, German filmmakers weren’t influenced by Hollywood as they had no access to the movies. So, they turned to art and were inspired by that. Specifically, German expressionism.
Initially, the camera wasn’t tilted. The camera was level and it was the sets that were all twisted and distorted to add a level of nightmarish unease to the shots. And it seemed to work, ushering in a whole new filmmaking technique, eventually picked up by Hollywood. Except, people realised they could get a similar effect by tilting the camera and leaving the sets and locations alone.
It’s now well entrenched in cinema, typically to highlight tension or to intentionally put the viewer at unease. And you can apply the same principle to photography, too. Of course, it doesn’t have to be sinister and tense. Dutch angles can work well for positive and happy scenes, too. But they’re generally more difficult to effectively achieve.
Ultimately, though, it’s a stylistic choice. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s all going to depend on your vision and abilities.
Do you tilt the camera? Or are you always level?