Last updated on November 20th, 2021
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One of my favorite parts about planning a first birthday party is organizing the cake smash photoshoot. Something about a one year old sticking their adorable little hands into cake and frosting for the first time. Oh, the squeals of glee. And when you step back, there is many a magical moment to remember.
Now, I know that you can hire a professional photographer to do this job for you. And if you are trying to plan your child’s first birthday party also, this might be easier than putting together your own DIY cake smash photos.
But there are lots of things about a professional photoshoot that didn’t work for my one year olds.
It turns out that scheduling cake smash photos can be difficult for this age group. Between naps and grumpy hours, my littles didn’t always plan their “on” time during the photoshoot. Sometimes it was after, sometimes before. But during the actual scheduled time the photographer was supposed to take the pictures. Not a chance. It seemed to be too much pressure.
Instead, I wanted a more relaxed atmosphere where they didn’t feel on the photographer’s time table to attack the cake. By creating my own cake smash photoshoot there was no schedule. My littles enjoyed the cake at their own free will. This created more natural photos and a much better experience.
It can also be expensive. I love our professional photographer and we get yearly family photos taken. But using her to capture more than one event a year is out of our budget.
Creating your own DIY cake smash photos can be more affordable and is pretty easy to do. With the right décor and equipment, you can make memories that last a life time. Here are some tips for styling your own cake smash photoshoot to enjoy with your little.
Once you decide to do your own cake smash photos, it’s time to find some inspiration. Luckily, Pinterest is full of ideas. Search cake smash photo ideas or check out our cake smash ideas inspiration board. You can also browse some of your favorite photographer’s websites. On these websites, you can find lots of inspiration for setting up the photoshoot, décor ideas, cake options and outfits.
Choose a Theme
As with planning any party, selecting a theme helps give you direction when styling the cake smash photoshoot. You can choose an element that is related to your child’s first birthday party theme or feature a favorite memory from your child’s first year.
Another idea is to select specific colors. I love blue gingham and the pattern was featured in a baby blanket we were given. When designing my cake smash photoshoot, I used blue gingham and touches of red as my theme.
Selecting a theme will help you coordinate the rest of the decorations and style a cohesive set up. If you are having difficulty deciding on something, look around at what items you already own.
Does your baby have an outfit that you love? Or a favorite toy or baby gift?
By already having some décor items at hand, you have a starting point when you start styling your photoshoot.
Schedule a Time
The biggest mistake that I made with my first cake smash photoshoot was that we decided to do it during my little’s first birthday party. I thought the guests would love watching her demolish the cake. And they did. My little one, though, was a bit shy and not so sure about all of the eyes watching her.
It was also really hard to take pictures. Guests wanted in on the action and getting adorable photos of my own was really hard.
Instead of having the cake smash photoshoot as an element of your child’s first birthday, schedule a different time to do it. By making it a separate event, you can choose the moment that’s best for your little’s energy level. When it comes to cake smashing, having an alert and happy baby is important.
Still want to have baby smash a cake for your guests? The cake smash has become a first birthday tradition and I love to share this special moment with our party guests. Even if you schedule your cake smash photoshoot separately, you can still have one during the first birthday party. Just have a cake ready.
When choosing a time to take the official photos, schedule something before the birthday party date. I found the surprise of a cake to smash wasn’t as delightful to my little one the second time around. The look of “I already did this Mommy” and a lot less cake smashing was fine for our guests. But it didn’t make the magical photos that I captured during the official photoshoot.
Indoors or Outdoors?
My favorite place to take photos is outdoors. I love using natural lighting and the end results tend to be better. Especially if you are more of an amateur photographer.
When looking for an outside location, try to find for a shadier place. We did ours under the branches of a tree in the backyard. It was also cloudy out, so I didn’t have unwanted leaf shadows.
The outside also provided a natural backdrop. The set up was easier since I didn’t need an additional photo backdrop. I also could showcase the current season. Since the birthday was in early summer, we enjoyed leafy green trees and bushes. If you are celebrating a fall birthday, you can spotlight the spectacular changing colors of autumn.
But it could rain. Or your child’s birthday is in the middle of winter. So, doing the photoshoot inside might be a better choice.
If working with an indoor location, you will want to make the most of window light. Choose a room that has lots of natural light streaming in. Set up the photoshoot about a foot or two from the window to take advantage of this lighting.
Also, choose a time of day that optimizes the natural light. The light from the morning sun might be really harsh, but the glow of an evening sunset just perfect. Once you choose your room, watch how the lighting changes over a couple of days. This will help you select the best lighting for your indoor photos.
Create a Backdrop
When I set up my DIY cake smash photoshoot, I chose an outside setting. I wanted to take as much advantage of the natural light as possible. For the backdrop, I picked a space in the backyard that had trees and bushes. The green colors off set the blue gingham and gave a nice sense of the time of year.
Since I worked with natural elements, the only other item I added to the backdrop was a fringe fabric bunting. I created it using strips of matching blue fabrics.
If taking photos inside, it’s best to choose a white backdrop that reflects the light. This will let you take full advantage of the available natural light. You can use a plain white wall or even a comfy white sheet.
Another idea is to use a vinyl photo backdrop. You can choose from an assortment of colors and textures such as these wood vinyl backdrops (affiliate). This is a great way to add more texture or change the look and feel of different photos during your cake smash photoshoot.
Hanging a bunting in the background can also make a nice look for an inside photoshoot. You can use a floral bunting to add a fresh feel or spell your child’s name with a printable version.
Props, Textures and Details
One of the fun parts about styling your own cake smash photoshoot is choosing a variety of props and other accessories to use in your photos. These props can add interesting textures and give your photos a unique feel. Many of these props are also things that your child can interact with.
Let your little one hold a carved wooden “One” sign (affiliate) or play with letters that spell “ONE” (affiliate).
A bunch of balloons matching your photoshoot colors can fill in the background or a solitary oversize number “1” balloon (affiliate) tied to a chair can commemorate his age. Adding a favorite stuffed animal to snuggle with or treasured baby gift also makes for a sweet memory.
For my cake smash photoshoot, I added the baby blanket that inspired the photoshoot’s colors as a place my little to sit on. It was a gift at birth and held special meaning to us. Other seating ideas include using a comfy chair or heirloom toddler rocking chair. You can also include a crate or a vintage trunk which your little could use to help stand up and show off this new skill.
And keep in mind when choosing the perfect props, a little goes a long way. Your cake smash photos need to focus on your little one – not the props. So, only select items that enhance the photoshoot and make it more special.
You can always bring props in and remove them too. You probably don’t want to do the smash cake portion while baby is grasping his favorite stuffed animal. Be flexible and take your photos in stages. It will give you different final versions to work with.
What to Wear
Cake smash photoshoot outfits can range from fancy tutus for little girls to just wearing a bow tie since the cake will no doubt end up everywhere. Choose an outfit that matches the look and feel of your photoshoot, but is also comfortable.
When I did my first cake smash photoshoot, I let my little wear a beautiful smocked dress. Even though she had a bib on, I am still pulling off crusted frosting years later. It was a mess.
For my second try, I stuck with the basics. This time he wore an embroidered bib from Carolina Monograms (affiliate) and a white diaper cover. The bib was designed to match the blue gingham pattern I used throughout the photoshoot.
He also wore an embellished party hat that I made. You can find out details to making your own party hat here.
Another idea is to have your little wear a sweet first birthday crown – this sparkly gold one is a pretty girl version (affiliate) or this handsome felt one is perfect for a little boy (affiliate).
When choosing a crown or party hat, keep in mind if your little one likes to have something on their head. Not all little ones will appreciate wearing a crown or hat for a long period of time.
Right Size the Cake
The cake. Oh, the cake. When I did my first cake smash photoshoot, we had a cake debacle. Basically, the guests at the party didn’t get any cake. Talk about an entertaining snafu. (Secretly, I decided that it was okay because the rest of the dessert table more than made up for it.)
I ended up giving my little the guests’ cake to smash. It was the size of a 10 inch round multi-layered cake. Let’s just say it was a mess. And I heard guests murmur under their breath, “I’ve heard of cake smashes, but I thought you were supposed to use a cupcake”. Lesson learned.
When planning your DIY cake smash photoshoot, choose the right size cake. The traditional smash cake size is about a four inch diameter. Check out this easy smash cake how to and decorating ideas from Sugar and Sparrow for more ideas.
You can also use an oversized cupcake. I still used an 8 inch cake for my last cake smash photoshoot and it worked fine. There was lots of cake to smash without too much mess.
If ordering your smash cake from a bakery, talk to the baker about a combination package. Many bakeries will make your first birthday cake and add on a smash cake for free. It’s always worth the ask.
Also, think about the cake stand you want to use for presenting the cake to your little. You could use a simple dinner plate or a fancier raised cake stand (affiliate). Choose something that matches the color and feel of your photoshoot. This is a featured element during the smash cake photoshoot and you don’t want it to be overlooked.
Capture All the Elements
Although your little should be the focus of your smash cake photos, there are other elements that are important. The stuffed animal that they snuggle with. The outfit they wear. The remnants of the cake on the cake stand.
Don’t forget to snap photos of these extra details on their own too. They are important pieces to help tell your story from the cake smash. When putting the photos together in an album or photo collage later on, they become key pieces of the entire photoshoot.
Let Siblings Play Too
If your little has siblings, try to plan a few photos that include them. Siblings love to be involved and might get a tad jealous that the baby gets to eat cake and they don’t.
I had our other little come into the photoshoot at the end. The baby fed her cake and smeared it in her hair. Their interaction was priceless.
Plan a few cake smash photos that include the entire family – even parents. There’s no telling the amazing snapshots you can get when cake and frosting are involved. If you can’t take those yourself, try to enlist a friend to snap a few at the end.
Putting together your own DIY cake smash photos is an easy and affordable way to capture photos of your growing baby. A first birthday is a big deal – for both the parents and the child. And these are memories that you will treasure in the years to come.
If doing your own cake smash photos seems too hard, hire a local photographer to help. Many photographers will assist with the photo set up, choose a location and make sure that the photoshoot is a success.
And if you’re looking for more ideas to help you plan your first birthday party, check out our First Birthday Party Pinterest board. It’s full of inspiration to help you get started.
Planning a first birthday party? Check out these printable party designs in our shop to make your first birthday party extra special (and easy to put together).