If your photo has angled horizon or vertical lines then you’re either doing dutch angle photography with purpose or shooting crooked. If you want to know more how to be in the former category rather than the latter, read on.
a.k.a. dutch tilt, german angle, canted angle or oblique angle.
So we’re on the same page, here’s what I mean when I talk about Dutch angle:
When the photograph is intentionally composed so that the horizon is not parallel with the bottom of the frame or the vertical lines in an image are at an angle to the sides of the frame due to the camera being tilted on it’s side to side (not front to back) axis.
These angles are also used in cinema. Here’s a quick example someone put together of how the cinematographers use dutch angle in the movie Thor (ignore the cheesy music):
Intention vs Accident
How do you know if your image is a Dutch Angle photo or just crooked? Consider that it’s all about your intention.
Here’s how you know:
- You made a conscious choice to angle the verticals/horizontals
- You have a reason to skew the verticals/horiontals
If those don’t apply, then my guess is that you’re “dutching” by accident. Accidental “dutching” can lead you to using a Dutch angle to strengthen your image but I suggest you fix your crooked image first and then Dutch on purpose.
In this first shoot with the Canon 1DX Mark II, I decided to run behind Olivia with a 24mm lens to get a shot where you feel like you’re running with her.
Straightening before “Dutching”
How often do you get your horizons perfectly straight at the time of capture?
If you’re like me, this actually happens quite often. I don’t work on a tripod and my images can vary any where between completely straight, slightly dutched and what I call “all over the place”. If you always get your horizons straight, you don’t have to think about the next question.
How often do you edit your files to try to fix your horizons and vertical lines?
I suggest that the answer to this question should be: always. A key word in the question above is “try”. Sometimes straightening the image takes too much away, or crops out a body part in an awkward place. I still go through the process to fix crooked images so that I know what they look like straight.
Fixing crooked images
This is a pretty easy process most of the time. A straightforward (no pun intended) way is to use a ruler tool combined with cropping.
Another quick way to do this in Lightroom is to use the “Auto Upright” tool. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s a quicker way to get similar results.
Using Dutch Angle effectively
Although there are no rules, I do have some guidelines that I use based on my own experience (exact degrees are for illustrative purposes):
1-3 degrees from straight
Since these angles are so close to straight, I don’t think they work. Instead of looking intentional, they look sloppy.
That’s because the viewer will be able to tell something is off, but is likely wondering if I meant to meant to angle the image. I’d rather not have my viewer wondering about that.
3-6 degrees from straight
These angles are noticeable enough that the viewer would reasonable surmise that I did it on purpose.
I tend to use these medium angles to accentuate movement. It gives the entire frame a sense of action.
Deep Dutch angles
7 degrees and above
Deeper angles add movement and can also add a sense of unease to the image. If I was shooting an image where I wanted the viewer to feel uneasy, I would accentuate this by dutching the image significantly. However if my subject wouldn’t benefit from this added unease, I would avoid dutching to this amount.
I don’t tend to use a lot of deep Dutch angles as it doesn’t align with my style very often.
Choosing a direction
Here’s what the image above would look like if I went 8 degree the other way:
For me, angling this photo the other way makes me feel more uneasy. Maybe it’s because her body is almost vertical while the background is very skewed. In this photo of Olivia, she was already leaning a bit to the left while running, so tilting to the left made the image feel more natural than if I had tilted to the right.
My advice here is that angling the photo in a way that follows the natural angle of the shot will get a more natural result, while going the other way will create more unease.
At the end of the day, you’re the artist. It’s really up to your personal taste on when and how to use a Dutch Angle.
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