July 3, 2012
Top row left: Cartils’s “SuperTrash”; center: Studija Creata’s “Lithuanian vodka”; right: Cartils’s “Royal Stag”; 2nd row left: Reynolds and Reyner’s “Waldo Trommler Paints”; right: Martin Fek’s Mekfartin Beer; 3rd row left: Stranger & Stranger’s “Dearly Beloved” wine; right: Holmberg Design C0.’s “Natedogs” mustard; 4th row left: Moxie Sozo<’s “Eat Pastry” cookie dough; center: Wei Sun’s “13 Appellations” wine; right: Klee’s “Mount Tea” packaging; bottom left: Amy Krone’s “Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA”; on right: Samantha Hartill’s “Naked” coffee; lower right: Katrinna Whiting’s “Cultured Calf” cartons
Speaking of photos taken with the camera tilted at a “Dutch angle,” which yesterday’s close up photos of Sirous Namazi’s sculpture turned out not to be, it suddenly dawns on me that there are a lot of package design photos, taken a dynamic Dutch/Batman angle.
In addition to the conventions of package design presentation that we’ve sometimes noted —seamless white backgrounds; black backgrounds; reflective surfaces (real & simulated); extreme perspective “hero shots”— we have another visual trope: a titled camera angle, changing vertical to diagonal. What’s behind this?
In film making, scenes shot at these angles are usually meant to impart something negative…
The angle was widely used to depict madness, unrest, exoticness, and disorientation in German Expressionism, hence its name (Deutsch, meaning German, was often conflated with the etymologically identical word Dutch; compare Pennsylvania Dutch). Montages of Dutch angles are structured in a way that the tilts are almost always horizontally opposite in each shot, for example, a right tilted shot will nearly always be followed with a left tilted shot, and so on.
…Dutch angles were used extensively in the original TV series and 1966 film of Batman, where each villain had his or her own angle. Scenes filmed in any villain’s hideout, when only the chief villain and his or her henchmen were present, were invariably shot at an angle departing extremely from the horizontal. This was to show that the villains were crooked.
from Wikipedia’s entry on “Dutch Angle”
Most of what the Dutch angle is meant to convey in films (madness, disorientation, crooks) are not the usual associations that brands try and seek out. Although, the case could be made that, for alcoholic beverage branding, some degree of disorientation is an implicit part of the brand promise. But house paint, mustard, milk & cookie dough?
In some cases (if you can’t see the skewed surface that the package is resting on) the photo might seem more naturalistic, as if someone were holding the package. And tilting a bottle at an angle, of course, is the means by which the package is poured and consumed.
It might also be argued that the whole point of such photos is to add a dynamic compositional element to package designs that might otherwise seem dull. For print advertising or online portfolios this is probably effective, but we can’t tilt the consumer’s head in the supermarket or the liquor store.
“Or can we?” (as I tilt my head to reconsider…)