While perusing a LinkedIn message board the other day, I came across a rather heated discussion (argument?) on a compositional technique known as the Dutch angle, or the Dutch tilt. The specific question was, "What is your take on photographs taken with the camera tilted at different angles? Is it outdated?" As you can imagine, there were dozens upon dozens of responses, none of which had the same take on the topic. Before I reveal my opinion on the matter, let’s start at the beginning.
Dutch vs. Deutsch
The Dutch angle originated in a 1919 German film named The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is actually a mis-representation of the original word, Deutsch. Deutsch means "German,” after the country in which the technique originated. The use of the angle in this film was to primarily depict chaos and madness in the post World War I region. Dutching was often used during the German Expressionism movement in the 1920s. It has since been adapted by several directors and photographers over the years and has been a mainstay in the photography world.
Basic Camera Functionality
Even though this technique became popular nearly a century ago, it is still a topic of intense conversation. I believe that basic camera functionality will never be outdated. When I say basic functionality, I mean aperture, shutter speed, compositional framing, ISO, and lens length. Is it outdated to shoot with a wide-open aperture for a crisp, sharp focal point and immediate drop off into the blurry background? Or to shoot using the "rule of thirds"? No, these are just different tools that a photographer can use to convey different styles or emotions. Just as you'd use a longer lens and wide aperture to knock back a busy background and draw focus to your subject, you would also tilt your camera one direction or the other to add a little bit of interest or excitement into a shot that lacks intensity.
The Dutch Tilt
There are so many reasons, especially in commercial photography, to use the tilt angle technique that I couldn’t possible write about them all. But as I mentioned above, it’s a great way to add interest to an otherwise boring food or product shot. The Dutch Angle can also be necessary to fit all compositional items into frame. You get a little bit of cheat space in the top right or left corner of your frame when you tilt one direction or the other. Perfect space to fit that light, top of tree, or exit sign. It’s also is a great way, much like when photographers used it during the German Expressionism movement, to add a little chaos or madness into the emotion of a stylized shot.
The main point I'm pressing is that it doesn’t make much sense to throw out blanket statements about photography techniques (like “they’re outdated,” for example). These various techniques all have a specific place and purpose in the photography world. Are they sometimes abused and overused? Absolutely, but everything is! When used for a specific reason and done well, Dutching can help add the interest and emotion your shot might be lacking.
What do you think about the Dutch angle? Do you use it? Or do you believe it’s “outdated?” Let us know below!