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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.