In a photography community that I participate in, we are given a word each day. Recently we were given “Dutch tilt.”

I have to admit that I had to go look that up. It’s a phrase I’ve heard before but I guess never really explored what it was, where it came from or what that meant as far as photography goes. So, I thought I’d share with you a little bit of what I found out about it.

Definition of Dutch tilt

According to the site Studiobinder.com:

“A Dutch angle (known as a Dutch tilt, canted angle, or oblique angle) is a type of camera shot that has a noticeable tilt on the camera’s ‘x-axis.’ It’s a camera technique that was used by the German Expressionists in the 1920s — so it’s not actually Dutch. Directors often use a Dutch angle to signal to the viewer that something is wrong, disorienting, or unsettling.”

StudioBinder is an app I came across that helps filmmakers create shooting schedules, call sheets, manage cast and film crew lists, and securely backup media in the cloud. They have a lot of great film-related content on their site.

Dutch tilt
Just by tilting my camera in this shot, it gives you an uneasy is this up or down kind of feeling.

Where you can find examples?

In films, Dutch tilt is used to create a sense of unease or disorientation for the viewer. Alfred Hitchcock used this method quite often in his films. The best examples of this are in “Suspicion” (1941), “Strangers on a Train” (1951) and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956).

If you’re an original 1960s “Batman” TV series fan, you’ll find extensive use of this method where each villain had their own angle.

Creative directors such as Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam also use the Dutch tilt in many of their films. The angles help to show madness, disorientation or drug psychosis in their films. Orson Welles also used this in “Citizen Kane,” to show the absurd egotism of Kane.

As you watch more films keep an eye out for the Dutch tilt. See how it impacts the scene and how you feel while you’re watching it.

Dutch tilt
For this hallway, I shot at an angle then edited it in DXO Nik Collection Analog Efex 2 using a blur and motion filter.

How does Dutch Tilt apply to photography?

While all it really takes is a tilt of the camera it’s best to do so with intention. Have a reason why you’re creating the angle you are shooting your scene. Yes, we all strive for level horizons and perpendicular lines in our images, but sometimes we’d like to be a bit more creative. Maybe we can’t fit our subject in our frame unless we tilt the camera a certain way. Being deliberate about what we are doing will translate to the viewer of our image. Otherwise, it’ll just look like a crooked shot.

Another way to use Dutch tilt in your photos is to create alternative perspectives. Take something ordinary and make it unique and more interesting by choosing an angle that changes how we see that subject.

Dutch tilt
Hotel hallways can be creepy all on their own, right? Tilt your camera and add a little black and white drama and some horror movies come to mind.

Think of using this technique as just another creative tool in your photography toolbox. Play around with it and different subjects. What results do you get? How do the images make you feel? It may take a little bit (or a lot) of practice to get yourself away from the “oh no, my horizon isn’t straight” mentality. Have fun with it.

If you want to read a more detailed description and how it’s used in the film industry, this post from Studio Binder is great.