The Dutch angle – also known as Dutch tilt, canted angle, or oblique angle – is a type of camera shot where you set the camera at an angle on its roll axis. This means the shot is composed with vertical lines at an angle to the side of the frame, or so that the horizon line of the shot isn’t parallel with the bottom of the camera frame. It produces a viewpoint that’s like tilting your head to the side.
In the world of filmmaking, the Dutch angle is a much-loved cinematic technique that creates a disorienting, off-kilter feeling. Creepy filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and Tim Burton often use it to show psychological uneasiness or tension in the subject being filmed. But it’s also a widely-used technique in action films and other genres.
The Dutch tilt got its big start in the German movie scene during the expressionist movement, where our Deutsch friends used the Dutch angle extensively. This all started during World War I when an Allies naval blockade prevented films from being imported to and exported from Germany. So, while Hollywood was having a jolly time creating cheery movies, filmmakers in the German expressionist scene were making work that explored the insanity of the world war.
In fact, the Dutch angle used to be called ‘the German angle’ because of its roots in the early German expressionist scene. It should probably be called the Deutsch angle, but at some point things went a little wonky and the camera technique became Dutch. The rest, as they say, is history.
As filmmaking developed, and German directors and cinematographers made the big leap to Hollywood, they brought the Dutch angle along for the ride. Over time, it became a favourite of the Hollywood masses, especially in film noir – which was also birthed out of German expressionism.
Filmmakers love to use the Dutch angle when they want to give their audience the willies, or communicate that something’s not quite right. Depending on how it’s used, this type of camera shot can create a sense of disorientation, madness, imbalance, or foreboding. So it’s a great way to build tension, making people feel uneasy – or even scared.
A Dutch angle gives viewers an uneasy feeling, like something isn’t quite right, or something ominous is looming just ahead. This type of camera shot can create a feeling of disorientation, madness, or imbalance. Dutch angles enhance tension, generate fear, and exacerbate unsteadiness.
While the Dutch angle can be a great addition to your oeuvre of camera angles, it’s important not to overuse it. Too much of the Dutch touch can take your camera movement from tastefully disorienting to ‘totally tripping balls’, and your audience might have to reach for the off switch to save themselves from losing their lunch. Be warned.
Dutch angle shots are used in filmmaking, TV series, video games, and other forms of visual media. Here are some of our favourite examples from cinematic history.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Our German filmmaker pals dove headfirst into the Dutch angle with this 1920 classic. Director Robert Qiene used the oblique angle to show a warped sense of reality, and countless more filmmakers followed suit.
Man With a Movie Camera (1929)
Soviet director Dziga Vertov's 1929 experimental documentary goes mad for the Dutch angle, as well as a host of other quirky camera techniques, like double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, extreme close-ups, and more.
The Third Man (1949)
Thanks to the film’s extensive use of Dutch angle shots, director Carol Reed does a sterling job of emphasising the main character's alienation in a foreign environment. In fact, his director pal William Wyler gave him a spirit level after seeing the film – apparently he wasn’t a fan of the ol’ Dutch tilt.
In the live-action Batman TV series from the 1960s, infamous villains like the Penguin and the Joker are often shown with the Dutch angle to highlight their instability and untrustworthy natures.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
In a memorable scene from Spike Lee’s classic movie, there’s a huge amount of tension when Buggin’ Out, Radio Raheem, and Smiley walk into a diner to confront Sal. And how does Lee build that tension? Well, a tilted camera angle, of course. Instantly, the audience smells trouble brewing.
Mission: Impossible (1996)
Tom Cruise’s action-packed outing boasts a whole host of cinematography to heighten the tension, not least a tonne of Dutch angle moments. Just check out the restaurant scene where Cruise (sorry, Ethan Hunt) realises he’s now a target.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
With its drug-heavy theme, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas needed some disorienting camera techniques to take the audience on a trip. And the Dutch angle delivers in spades.
Battlefield Earth (2000)
While it was a commercial and critical failure, and is often described as one of the worst films of all time, Battlefield Earth is a good place to learn about the Dutch angle. Almost every shot is tilted because, according to Roger Christian, he wanted the film to look like a comic book.
You’ve cracked the logline and nailed the script. Now it’s time to dial up the weird with a gentle helping of Dutch angle.
1. Know when to tilt that camera
The Dutch angle can create a pretty unnerving feeling so it’s important to use it carefully. Are you heightening the drama? Or making a creepy figure that little bit creepier? Know why you’re using it, and tread carefully.
2. Choose your depth of field
It’s important to think about the depth of your shot with a tilted camera. Close-up Dutch angles can feel pretty claustrophobic, leaving your audience nowhere to escape from the onscreen tension.
3. Pick your camera level
Shooting a scene with a low-angle tilt can make a bad main character feel like they’re looming over viewers, giving them power. A scene shot with a high-angle tilt can diminish the character’s power, making them appear weak. It’s all in the levels.
4. Use sparingly
If you overuse Dutch angles, it’ll get boring for you and your audience. Save the technique for when you want to create a specific feeling, not just as something to spice up a shot for no reason.
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