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Russian Standard: a Lesson on Creative Compositing with Dariusz Szwedo

By Jules Ebe on July 31st 2013


[If you’re interested in learning from Erik’s comprehensive DVD on Commercial Photography, please check out his DVD, Erik Almas On Aspects of Image Making.]

When you have an idea for a image, you just got to run with it. That is what 20 year-old photography student Dariusz Szwedo did with his recent ‘Russian Standard Vodka’ image. He wasn’t commissioned to do it, but he had the idea and ran with it.

With only a cheap light, a few pieces of polystyrene and bounce cards, over 70 photos, and a lot of patience in Photoshop, a great portfolio piece was born.

You don’t need a lot of money to create a great image – just time, patience, and know-how.

Russian Standard Workflow

Piece by Piece

I started off with a sketch, short explanation to myself, and a few ideas in my workbook.


In terms of details, there are a few men as well as a smaller boat closer to the iceberg. Dodging and Burning was used to create a dark feel to the ships and frost was added to the iceberg. There was also a composite of lanterns added as a small detail to introduce some variety.


I started off with selecting the lantern and pasting it onto new canvas, mask any unwanted bits. As for the glass, I selected big, soft brush with the opacity dropped to about 20%. Next, I’ve started working on the light, it was fairly simple in fact, I added few low opacity strokes of different colors, starting with white and then followed by yellows and oranges, last step was to add the outer glow which can be found in ‘styles’ tab.


Here you can see the progress. First, the sketch, and then first larger pieces were placed. After that, the smaller pieces were incorporated and additional details. Last part was the color correction and any other last touches that needed adjustments.


The Idea

‘Russian Standard Vodka’ is a Commercial/Advertising piece. I was not commissioned to do this.


So the whole idea started about a year ago, I wanted to do a composite image.

The main concept was to create an image where the ‘Russian Standard’ Bottle is frozen in the iceberg, in the middle of the ocean. It would be attached with huge ropes and dragged by an old Russian ship across the sea, while it was also being striped down off ice by men with pickaxes. I wanted to incorporate a dramatic feel all the way through the image, right from the sky with thunder and pouring rain, to the angry sea storm with some massive waves. I created moody atmospheric colors and tones as the main palette.

I also always like to add a bit of small details, since I believe that in most cases,

it’s the details that make an image stand out.

The final image was made out of over 70 shots; each one of them was masked out to bring the smallest pieces together. Now, I know that you are probably thinking, that over 70 shots seems like an over do, but you must know that I was using only one studio light (some cheap Chinese light that I’m using for every single shot) with some polystyrene to bounce the light back in, as well as bunch of white and black cards to control the light. Once in Photoshop, I stitched the different components together.

Over all time spent on this image, from shooting the vodka bottle to final image was about 20 hours. 10 hours of that was post-production.

About Dariusz Szwedo

I’m 20 years old, University student. Born in Poland but living in Great Britain for the past 7 years. I am currently studying Commercial Photography at the University of Derby and I have a huge passion for Advertising/Commercial Photography as well as a bit of Fashion and Beauty. I’ve been photographing and retouching for the past 4-5 years and I simply love being creative. In the past I did try traditional art, but sitting in front of an empty canvas was just too frustrating for me (not to mention I wasn’t great with paints).

Photography and digital retouching has changed everything for me, at first I was doing it as a hobby but after a while I was introduced to studio and Photoshop. I was able create anything I wanted to! It doesn’t get any better than that, right!?

Biggest Inspiration: Erik Almas

[REWIND: Interview with Erik Almas]

For more from Dariusz Szwedo, check out his website and blog.

Until Next Time . . .

Stay Inspired ~ Jules

CREDITS: Photographs and video by Dariusz Szwedo have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.


is a Southern California based Conceptual Artist and Photographer. Her work has been featured in several print publications and selections can be seen in local gallery exhibitions. Connect with her on Facebook and Google+.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Thanks for sharing

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