What better way to celebrate your baby’s first birthday than with a fun cake smash photo session!
But what if the expense of baby’s first birthday present, a party, cake, and all.the.things… has exhausted the budget and there’s nothing left for a professional photo shoot?
Or maybe you tried it already… and got a little Pinterest fail situation happening? You probably couldn’t put your finger on exactly what was wrong with the photos… you just know it fell flat!
With our 10 easy professional tips, complemented with stunning photos taken by Justine Eacott, Advanced Photography Course graduate… we will show you exactly how to take your own beautifully lit, beautifully styled, gorgeous cake smash photos!
Between props, the cake and baby, there’s a lot going on in cake smash photos. You can avoid adding visual chaos in the form of jarring colour combos by choosing analogous colours. Analogous colours are next to each other on the colour wheel and when used together, create a harmonious overall look.
Justine has used pink and apricot through to yellow and green, against a soft apricot backdrop. Note that her use of the green is minimal and works only to lift the other colours.
I get it. Your baby has a lot of special items you want to include in your photos.
It can be tempting to keep adding elements to the shot, but when it comes to props, always be guided by less is more. In the same way that clutter can cause distractions, so too can too many props.
Choose 2-3 items and stop there. Remember cake smash photos are about your baby and this milestone… let the baby and the cake be the hero! The less elements that are working for attention, the more powerful and striking the resulting photos will be!
That being said, if you are really having a hard time with bub, I recommend a few small natural wooden toys like cars.
The best option for a cake smash photos is no clothes other than a nappy. Why? Less clean up!
But also, it’s as simple as you can get. There is nothing more distracting in these type of photos than an outfit with multiple colours, fabrics, logos, and pictures.
If it’s winter, it might be too cold for baby to go bare chested, even indoors. In that instance, keep clothing simple.
In this session Justine used a simple white bodysuit that blends. The motif on the bodysuit is subtle, relevant, and sticks to the colour theme. As a bonus, the “one” on her bodysuit tells part of the story.
Written stories have a beginning, middle and end. They describe the scene, and talk about details.
When we approach photography in the same way, we use our images to tell the story. The best way to do that is take a variety of wide shots which set the scene, and detail shots which add that extra layer of information.
Take your wide shots…
…get in close and focus on other elements including (and especially) the cake…
…and whilst you’re there make sure to grab some beautiful portrait shots as well!
Get variety in your photos by shooting from lots of different positions and angles.
This tip is one of the easiest and most powerful things you can do in your child photography – get down low to eye level with your subject. It’s the best way to ensure good eye contact, and makes it easier to engage your subject.
Related: Get Down to Their Level
If shooting from your standing height, make sure they look up at you… the alternative is a confusing photo of the top of their head!
Maybe it’s obvious… but don’t set up a cake smash photo session on your expensive persian rug or your shag carpeting!
Set up on tiles or floorboards and save yourself the insanity of trying to get electric blue butter cream out of white carpet!
The easiest backdrop by far is simply a plain light coloured wall.
If you don’t have a plain wall near good natural light, try an inexpensive DIY backdrop.
For this session, Justine answered both floor and backdrop issues by using a long piece of vinyl and attaching it to the top of a backdrop frame with clips.
As far as DIY backdrops go, vinyl isn’t the cheapest option. But it’s an awesome backdrop for so many reasons… cake spills just wipe off, it doesn’t wrinkle, doesn’t require ironing, it’s sturdy so it drapes perfectly, and it’s easy to store (just fold it!).
Related: DIY Photography Backdrops
Eliminating all background clutter is one of the most powerful things you can do to elevate your photos from snapshot to professional. Clutter makes our photos look chaotic because it adds too many extra elements, and it draws our viewer’s eye away from our subject.
Indoors, it can come in the form of stray toys, a basket of laundry in the background, a pile of newspapers on the dining table.
If you can’t move the clutter, move your subject.
With that in mind, think about clutter when you’re styling and deciding how many elements to include. No matter how pretty the elements you’re adding… too many and it just becomes clutter. Your baby and the cake is the subject, not all the things.
Related: Clear the Clutter
For a light, bright, cheerful look that suits cake smash sessions so well, use soft natural light. As a bonus, it’s easy to use and easy to find!
Soft light wraps gently and evenly around our subject and is free from harsh shadow lines.
You’ll find it indoors near large windows and doorways. If the light coming through your window is too harsh, it may cause sharply defined shadow lines which can be unflattering. If that happens, diffuse the light through the use of a sheer fabric such as chiffon or curtain netting.
Make sure you turn any overhead lights off as they will interfere with your natural light source and cast unwanted hard light shadows.
Related: DIY Indoor Natural Light Studio
Having a second pair of hands is really handy for this type of shoot. If your baby is crawling, your helper can ensure she stays confined to the cake smash location and doesn’t drag bright blue butter cream through the house!
You can also ask them to grab your baby’s attention from time to time to get some eye contact shots. They can use bubbles, peek a boo, etc but when doing this, ask them to position themselves directly behind you. This way baby will look in the direction of your lens.
If you’re having a party for your baby’s first birthday, schedule your cake smash photos for another day. Parties are busy, tiring, there are lots of people around, and many distractions.
What happens if you put food in front of a baby who just had a full meal 5 minutes ago? Make sure your baby is hungry enough to taste the cake with enthusiasm!
Why would you schedule your cake smash photos for 3pm when your baby is tired and cranky and ready for their afternoon nap?
Choose a time of day when your baby is usually at their happiest, for the best chance of happy expressions!
Don’t waste the clean up… it’s a perfect opportunity for more cute photos!
Use a container as a makeshift bathtub, but try to avoid plastic tubs as they don’t tend to be very photogenic.
This large metal bucket used by Justine is a fantastic option.
If you use a small tub, baby has no choice but to sit or kneel, ensuring they remain at eye level with your lens. It also prevents baby from slipping under water, leaving your hands free to shoot.
Add elements such as a rubber ducky, flowers, sliced fruit… the options are endless. But remember, keep it simple, less is more!
Once you’ve set up, choose your settings and take some test shots. Once you’re happy… then bring baby in!
The last thing you want is for baby to start without you as you fiddle around trying to get your settings right!
Whether you’re indoors or out, I recommend a shutter speed of 1/400 as a minimum. This will eliminate unwanted blur from the speed of motion you could expect from a cake smash photo session.
If shooting outdoors, you may have enough light to go even faster. The faster the better!
Choose an aperture that is wide enough to blur your background, but narrow enough to help you nail focus given baby may be moving a bit. If you feel confident with your ability to focus as very wide apertures, you could open up to around f/2.
I recommend trying around f/3.5 but bear in mind the resulting depth of field will vary a little depending on the distance between baby and cake, and your focal length.
Then choose an ISO to balance the other two settings and achieve a nice light exposure. Given your fast shutter speed and indoor location, you will probably need to push your ISO.
A DSLR you can use in manual mode is essential so that you can control your shutter speed and aperture.
If you’re shooting in auto mode, take control of your camera and take photos you love by switching to manual mode.
I recommend a lens focal length of around 35-50mm. This range is perfect for cake smash photos as it enables you to get in close whilst still including the set up.
Related: Getting out of Auto
Many thanks and much love to Click Love Grow Advanced Photography Course graduate Justine Eacott for generously sharing her images! If you want to see more of Justine’s work, head to Justine Eacott Photography.
Download the Guide
4 Steps to Beautiful Kids Photos
Use these tips & tricks to help you take gorgeous non-cheesy photos of your kids! Xx
Our 8 Week Enthusiast Photography Course is starting again SOON! You'll learn how to get the most from your DSLR & take photos you LOVE!