The Dutch angle compositional technique is one of my favourites. It can instantly produce a dramatic improvement in the right photo choice. It's a technique that you may not have tried or have experienced yourself that sometimes doesn't work.
We interpret photos incredibly fast. Your photo may have a perfect subject, correct exposure, tones and beautiful colours. If the photo is slightly tilted the viewer will subconsciously notice that there is something wrong. If there are elements that we know to be vertical, like street poles and they are not straight, we pick up on it instantly.
What is the Dutch angle?
Also known as Dutch tilt, canted angle, or oblique angle. It is basically, an intentionally crooked photo. The keyword there is intentional. It cannot be slightly crooked, because it looks like you just held the smartphone at an angle. You do not want horizons looking slightly tilted. The Dutch angle is more intentional and exaggerated for a creative effect. You can achieve this at capture by angling your smartphone or easily in mobile editing.
This technique is common in cinema cinematography for the dramatic effect. It helps to portray movement and/or introduce some unease and disorientation for that desperate or frantic action scene. The visual tension can also add to the storytelling of 2-dimensional photos. It is a common technique in the genre of street photography.
The camera technique became popular among German expressionists in the 1920s. The term has no connection to Dutch people. It is a pejorative adjective meaning non-traditional, non-aligned frame.
In this tutorial, I will show you why we do it, when we do it, how we do it and how much we angle the photo.
Why and when?
If like me, you struggle with creativity, this is a simple technique that will make even the most mundane look interesting. An angled photo has more diagonal lines adding more energy by introducing the perception of movement.
As you know, the composition is how you position the main subject and other elements within the frame and how they all interact with each other. So if you've got a photo that just has lots of vertical and horizontal lines. It can be static. The viewer's attention can follow up and down or left and right. Rotating the photo turns these lines into more dynamic diagonal lines guiding the viewer through the photo.
This technique does not work on every photo. Dutching the photo can have compositional implications on the rest of the photo. The visual weight of different elements changes when placed higher or lower on either side of the frame. The subject and element emphasis might become something else. The space around the main subject completely changes when you change the angle. It is important to have active space in front of the subject in the frame.
In the above YouTube video, I use a scooter photo as an example. The scooter is centred so angling the photo in either direction leaves the focus still in the centre of the frame. The background is universally balanced on either side of the frame.
How much you tilt the photo is a personal preference. The direction that you tilt can have a big impact.
When you have a person walking and you tilt the ground, they are then either walking on an incline or decline. Depending on the placement and direction of the person, they may look like they are falling back into the frame or out of the bottom corner!
I encourage you to have a play and experiment and see for yourself the difference between someone leaning forward or backward.
Changing the angle of the photo can place greater emphasis on the content on either side of the photo.
It can be a lot of fun to play around intentionally angling straight lines. It is an easy process to hold on either end of your smartphone in a horizontal position, then lift either hand to angle the phone. It can be hard to imagine what an angled photo will look like without looking at the screen. You may need to tilt your head with the camera to see the screen. You have my permission to try this and look weird!
The preference is to consider the Dutch angle at the time of capture. When editing the photo and rotating it, the editor will inevitably zoom in and crop much of the photo.
Most smartphone inbuilt editors have a rotate option. Some are located in the crop tool. Most have a very limited amount of straightening adjustment which may not suit the purpose of creating a Dutch angle.
The app and tool that I use to introduce the Dutch angle is the Perspective tool inside Snapseed. It is amazing! Most rotation tools will zoom in and crop the photo. The Perspective tool has a Rotate option. It copies what is inside the edges of the frame and adds it to the outside corners, minimising how much of the photo is cropped and removed. It is easier to watch this tool in action.