A flat hori­zon line in the frame is a for­mal­ly cor­rect deci­sion in the com­po­si­tion accord­ing to all the rules of pho­tog­ra­phy. How­ev­er, you have prob­a­bly seen more than once how the hori­zon was delib­er­ate­ly filled up in films. The curved hori­zon line along the X axis is not an over­sight of the oper­a­tors, but noth­ing more than a Dutch angle tech­nique. It is real­ly pos­si­ble to fill it up and some­times even nec­es­sary. What is in cin­e­ma, what is in pho­tog­ra­phy. We fig­ure out where this tech­nique came from, how to use it and how it can be use­ful as a styl­is­tic tool.

What is a dutch angle

The Dutch angle is a visu­al tech­nique with a non-stan­dard loca­tion of the hori­zon in the frame. It was first used by Ger­man Expres­sion­ist direc­tors of the 20th cen­tu­ry, so the angle is actu­al­ly Ger­man, not Dutch. The con­fu­sion arose due to the sim­i­lar pro­nun­ci­a­tion of Dutch and Deutsch. How­ev­er, in pop­u­lar cul­ture, this tech­nique has already become entrenched as a Dutch angle.

The essence of the tech­nique is the inten­tion­al tilt of the hori­zon rel­a­tive to the X axis. The Ger­man pio­neers often used it in hor­ror films, thrillers and noir films. In such films, the lit­tered hori­zon helped height­en the unset­tling moments in the eyes of the audi­ence. Lat­er, the tech­nique became wide­spread: today it is one of the cam­era tricks for work­ing with cer­tain scenes.

In addi­tion, the Dutch angle is used in pho­tog­ra­phy. A sta­t­ic image can also be enhanced by dynam­ic axes.

How does the Dutch cor­ner work? Calm col­ors and round­ed shapes evoke a sense of har­mo­ny (or, if not direct­ly evoked, they can con­tribute to this). Con­trast­ing col­ors, like shapes with sharp cor­ners, are per­ceived more emo­tion­al­ly. The cir­cle appears calm, while the acute-angled tri­an­gle appears sharp. An even hori­zon, even in an emo­tion­al scene — sta­t­ic and calm, a lit­tered hori­zon — dynam­ic and emo­tion­al, there is a feel­ing of move­ment.

What is the Dutch angle used for?

This angle was an essen­tial ele­ment of hor­ror films, in which it helped to increase the anx­i­ety of the char­ac­ters or the scene itself. Suf­fice it to recall the grand­fa­ther of clas­sic thrillers, Alfred Hitch­cock, in whose films this trick is used.

How­ev­er, the Dutch angle can be a handy tool in very dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions. Here are 5 exam­ples:

1) Dia­logue. They are not only unit­ed by con­trast­ing light: the emo­tions of the char­ac­ters can also be empha­sized by visu­al­ly tak­ing them at an acute angle. Espe­cial­ly if you shoot close-ups of the faces of the char­ac­ters. This tech­nique can be seen in Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire, which also frames the char­ac­ter of Mis­sion: Impos­si­ble in a par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult sto­ry dia­logue.

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2) Con­flict. The Dutch angle itself cre­ates ten­sion in the frame, and now imag­ine that there is also a con­flict scene on the screen. This is an effec­tive tool for enhanc­ing visu­al ten­sion. One exam­ple is a scene from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Curi­ous­ly, the dom­i­nant char­ac­ters are enhanced by both the Dutch angle and the bot­tom-up angle.

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3) Dynam­ic scene. Also, the Dutch angle tech­nique can be used in its clas­sic ver­sion to make a sta­t­ic scene dynam­ic. The lit­tered hori­zon will make the move­ments and char­ac­ters more alive. A per­son walk­ing along a hotel cor­ri­dor with an even hori­zon is per­ceived as a clas­sic of a sta­t­ic por­trait. But one has only to tilt the cam­era rel­a­tive to the floor — and now it’s almost a detec­tive thriller or a chase scene. In such a sim­ple deci­sion lies the pow­er of recep­tion.

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4) The state of the char­ac­ter in the frame. Raul Duke from the film adap­ta­tion of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a clas­sic exam­ple of a char­ac­ter in an altered men­tal state. The direc­tor empha­sizes this with raised angles, because in the mind of the hero, under the influ­ence of every­thing accept­ed, the world looks some­thing like this.

The Dutch angle will also frame well the apa­thet­ic, lone­ly state of the char­ac­ter, his anx­i­ety, fear or melan­choly.

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5) Strength­en­ing the expo­sure. Anoth­er plan­et, Indi­an slums, secret spaces and secret loca­tions — all this will work even hard­er in the eyes of the view­er and fas­ci­nate if shot at an acute angle. This is what the direc­tors of the films “Trans­form­ers” and “Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire” do.

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In what films to look for examples?

Of course, the above freeze-frames are only a part of a large num­ber of exam­ples from world cin­e­ma. The Dutch angle is a com­mon tech­nique, and it is easy to find it in mod­ern films. Among the clas­sics of world cin­e­ma, he, of course, also exists. Just look at the same Hitch­cock, who often used the Dutch angle tech­nique in thrillers.

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One of the exam­ples of mod­ern mass cin­e­ma is Har­ry Pot­ter, in the last part of which this tech­nique peri­od­i­cal­ly flash­es in the frame. Dark clouds have gath­ered, the ten­sion in the plot is grow­ing, the last bat­tle is close.

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Hitch­cock is not the only one who loved this tech­nique — his con­tem­po­rary film­mak­er col­league Guy Ric­ci also often resorts to a lit­tered hori­zon in his paint­ings.

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And what about pho­tog­ra­phy?

Yes, pho­tog­ra­phy is a sta­t­ic image, unlike cin­e­ma, but even such sta­t­ic can be giv­en the desired move­ment only due to the angle. The Dutch angle is an easy way to indi­cate the emo­tion of a char­ac­ter in the frame, empha­size their mood or enhance the sur­round­ing expo­sure.

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The tech­nique can be used on any planes, but always focus on the sur­round­ing space. For exam­ple, in stu­dio inte­ri­ors it will obvi­ous­ly be inap­pro­pri­ate to take a gen­er­al plan. On the street, on the con­trary, the tech­nique will allow you to take more into the frame and visu­al­ly empha­size the move­ment of the hero.

The Dutch angle can be used in both street and por­trait pho­tog­ra­phy. A lit­tered hori­zon will cre­ate a feel­ing of ran­dom­ness of the frame, a shot from the hip, “pseu­do-inept­ness”, which, giv­en the qual­i­ty of the frame itself, will only strength­en it. Pay atten­tion to the shots of Lind­bergh, who used this tech­nique in his street shoot­ings.

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The Dutch angle is also a great solu­tion when you need to fit the entire sub­ject into the frame, which does not fit on a flat hori­zon. For exam­ple, this tech­nique is often used by auto pho­tog­ra­phers, cre­at­ing a diag­o­nal per­spec­tive of the car.

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Some scenes or frames become full and much more inter­est­ing if you just tilt the cam­era. This tech­nique is a kind of life­saver for those cas­es when the sub­ject seems to be there, but the frame does not line up, it turns out flat and bor­ing.

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Most impor­tant­ly, always keep the fol­low­ing points in mind:

• Tilt angle. Recep­tion does not have a spe­cif­ic des­ig­na­tion of the degree of incli­na­tion, every­thing is by eye. The main thing to remem­ber: more tilt — more dynam­ics, a small­er degree of incli­na­tion — less dynam­ics.

• Do not over­do it and vice ver­sa. Hav­ing filled up the hori­zon as high as pos­si­ble, you can over­do it, and a strange after­taste will remain from the styl­is­tic device. On the oth­er hand, a very small degree of tilt can be per­ceived as a shoot­ing error, there will be no recep­tion strength in this either. The Dutch angle does not have a spe­cif­ic appli­ca­tion scheme, be guid­ed by your instinct, which is easy to bring up by look­ing at a suf­fi­cient num­ber of exam­ples.

• Rel­e­vance. Think and ana­lyze, the tech­nique should be appro­pri­ate and per­form its func­tion in the frame, work­ing on emo­tion­al per­cep­tion. In gen­er­al, like any visu­al tech­nique.