I recently scoured the Internet to generate some ideas to commemorate my son’s first birthday. If you’ve done the same at any point, you’ve surely come across those super cute cake-smash photos, capturing the truly joyful five-alarm mess that defines the first year with a baby. Seriously, I should have invested in Dreft stock by now. I love the look of those professional shots, but hiring a professional photographer and hoping that your little one cooperates/is in a decent mood/isn’t asleep during the scheduled shoot time is just plain expensive and stressful!
What’s a crafty and thrifty mama to do? Well, do-it-yourself, of course.
But how? Here’s a relatively easy how-to:
- Large sheet of decorative paper or wide roll of wrapping paper for background. I found the perfect size sheet for $12 on Amazon by searching “photography backdrop” — there are TONS of choices, and, if you’re a Prime addict like myself, your favorite one will arrive at your doorstep in no time. If you have a hardwood floor, you can also use that as your floor backdrop and use a roll of wrapping paper for your wall background. COST: $5-15
- Decorations. Keep it simple, no need to distract from your main subjects — baby and cake. I chose a simple banner. (Buy online or make it yourself by cutting a few sheets of designed scrapbooking cardstock and attaching them to a long string or ribbon.) Add a half a dozen latex balloons from the grocery store and you’re good to go. You might also consider a rag tie banner (lots of little colorful strips of fabric tied closely together on a string), paper lanterns, or decorative party fans (think paper circles folded to look like an accordion). COST: $5-15
- Plexiglass sheet (optional). I decided to invest in this to keep the paper still during my son’s smashing shenanigans. I also loved the reflection. It’s more of a “splurge,” but, if you have room to store it, there are plenty of other potential uses down the road (including an easy-to-hose-off cover for floors during messy toddler projects). These are easily found at home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s. COST: $20-35 (depending on size)
- Cake and candle (or other fun cake decorations). Pick frosting colors that have a high degree of contrast with baby’s skin tone or outfit, because, heaven knows, that outfit may be sugar coated by the end of your shoot! You can buy an inexpensive cake, or make one yourself. Some mamas choose to go with a modified healthy cake, but, in our case, it was straight box mix with homemade buttercream frosting — yum! I also found a glittery “one” candle to get things poppin’ . . . just in time for me to pop some glittery wax out of my son’s mouth when that candle became a teething toy. Candle buy with caution, ladies! COST: $5-10
- Camera. My husband invested in a DSLR camera years before baby arrived, so we had that on hand already. I love the 55mm, f 1.8 portrait lens. There’s something about a blurred background with your subject in crisp focus that says “professional,” and this lens achieves that. But say you’ve only got the camera on your smartphone, no problem! While they won’t look as crisp or professional as a DSLR might deliver, you can still produce some cute pics that capture the moment — and there’s always easy editing tricks like enhancing color and contrast that can be done within the basic photo editing apps on most phones. COST: Free to mega expensive (based on your personal preference and resources)
- Baby wrangler. Husbands, family, and friends need apply. One of my favorite photos from our shoot shows my friend (a.k.a. baby wrangler) appearing to force my crying child upon a cake. Baby living is hard! COST: Called in favor, cup of coffee, or a stiff drink
- Baby in an Adorable Outfit. You’ve got this one covered! COST: Priceless
- Choose a location with LOTS of natural light, preferably not on carpet.
- Set it up! I draped the paper from the wall to floor and attached it with blue painter’s tape to avoid peeling. In fact, painter’s tape came in handy for attaching banners and balloons, too. Remember to hang things LOW and consider doing a test shot using a stuffed animal as your subject.
- Take some shots pre-baby that include the cake and background.
- Set up a bath. Seriously, baby is likely to need a direct transfer from cake to tub.
- Let baby go wild, and prepare for a mess. My kiddo thought crawling away from and through the cake onto the floor was just about the best idea all day. Which brings us to the wrangling: It’s nearly impossible to keep baby engaged with the cake while also taking photos, especially once the sugar rush comes onboard.
- Shoot like it’s the last day you’ll ever use a camera! The beauty of digital photography is that it costs the same amount to take 200 photos as it does to take two photos. Shooting continuously, and from different perspectives (get down on the floor and photograph baby from his or her level, shoot from above, etc.) simply increases the odds that you’ll catch a few really great expressions or moments. There’s no penalty for shooting lots of bad pics you eventually delete. And, don’t forget to take a photo of the final smashed cake.
- Get that baby clean and then clean up your shoot — breaking down your “set” is a piece of cake (har har).
- Edit and enjoy!