Get my best tips for mess-free cake smash photos (icing everywhere is optional!)
Most of the families I work with are on my calendar for more than one year, starting with their maternity session, then onto newborn photos, a mix of monthly milestone sessions during baby’s first year – all culminating into magical one year photos where we celebrate not just baby’s first birthday… but also the first year of parenting!
We’ve certainly got a big reason to celebrate. Mom and dad have survived 365+ plus sleepless nights, diaper rashes, teething, the first trip to urgent care and at least a few blowouts. They’ve learned to live on a lot less sleep, juggle work/family responsibilities while caring for a baby…and now they know what sacrificial love truly looks like.
When I finally see them after we’ve spent weeks planning these photos, they’re always are so proud of their walking, talking, smiling little person. My part in their story as a family is small – I’ve spent hours and hours with them by this point – and documenting the first year of a baby’s life and making sure they’ll always recall the big and little moments is truly an honor.
First birthday sessions are somewhat like newborn photos
I’ve found that helping mamas prepare for a one year session isn’t much different from newborn photo prep:
We move at baby’s pace.
Neutral colors photograph best.
Babies with a full tummy and plenty of rest usually handle the session well.
Dresses for mamas photograph better than jeans or shorts.
Dad shouldn’t wear flip flops.
Siblings ages 2-6 often do well with a little bribery, like fruit snacks or Goldfish.
Another very common aspect between newborn sessions and first birthday photos is that mama wants everything to look perfect.
Most clients want a gorgeous outdoor (or studio) location, well-coordinated outfits and a happy, smiling baby so they can celebrate this milestone with beautiful memories. These are the photos you send as gifts to family members and hang on the walls of your home.
To cake smash or not to cake smash?
Some families have a very particular vision in mind for first birthday photo sessions – and it doesn’t include a cake smash!
That’s right – plans to celebrate baby’s first year don’t have to include a cupcake experience, if the idea of icing everywhere completely stresses you out.
On the other hand, if you’d rather capture your tiny love going for fistfuls of icing and cake to mark this milestone, I’ve got easy-to-follow tips that will almost guarantee a hilarious, memorable cake smash!
If you happen to fall in the middle – you want lovely photos where everyone stays perfectly clean, but you also kind of want to mark the occasion with a cake – I’ve got an easy solution for that, too!
A simple, peaceful family session sans cake smash
My favorite time to schedule family sessions with a toddler is in the evening, when we can catch the prettiest light. I know this can be tricky with bedtime often quickly approaching. That’s why it’s important to capture every must-have image right away, while baby is happy and often curious enough about me and my camera to make amazing eye contact!
Sometimes when we kick off a session, littles aren’t quite sure about my big camera – afterall, they’re usually only used to seeing much smaller cell phones capture their every smile and giggle. They’ll keep a close eye on me, which means I can invite mama and dad to connect with each other while keeping baby as the focus of the photo. This session is very much about celebrating your toddler – but it’s also important to remember that this family started with the two of you and your love for each other!
Even during a 30 minute mini session, there’s plenty of time to capture lots of combos in your family – baby and mama, baby and dad, baby with siblings, and of course baby by his- or herself.
Photographing just baby without a cake
If mom and dad planned a photo session without a cake, there are still endless ways to photograph baby easily and beautifully.
This is when we let their little personalities shine, and I often have parents singing “Baby Shark” or playing peek-a-boo right next to me as I photograph their child. It’s a great way to get those priceless smiles and engagement! If we’re at the studio, I love making use of the huge mirrors for especially sweet moments.
Moving quickly for a full gallery with lots of variety
Sometimes families plan to change outfits during a family session, but it’s usually just for baby and only if they tolerate wardrobe changes well. After all, we’ve got a short window of time before we run out of good light, so we transition quickly between images. That helps keep babies happier, too.
For most of the session, I tend to keep the family together as one unit to maximize the chance you’ll have many perfect moments of everyone to choose from. Of course I sprinkle in photos of each parent individually with baby and sibs with baby, too.
First birthday photo sessions with a cake smash
If you’ve got your heart set on a magical first birthday photo session complete with a cake and frosting-covered tiny love, we can certainly do that too! The first 10-15 minutes of the session will look just like one without a cake; I’ll get the must-have family shots, plus photos of each parent (and other kids) with baby. I’ll even snag a few sweet portraits of your one-year-old before he or she covered in icing!
Once we have a good variety of these photos, we’ll break out the cake! I have mom or dad place the cake down in front of baby, while I’m perfectly positioned to begin capturing these moments as soon as baby starts moving. They usually go for the cake right away, but sometimes shy babies can be a little more hesitant.
There’s actually a little more to planning a successful cake smash photo session than picking out a cute outfit for your child and bringing a cake. For most babies, their first birthday is the first introduction to icing and cake.
They can be a little shy in a new environment, with a new person, on top of a new food in front of them. It’s a lot for a tiny person to process! That’s exactly why I encourage clients to begin preparing baby for these photos at least a week or two before the session!
Ensure your baby’s first birthday photo session is a (cake) smashing success
Expose them to icing and cake in small increments before the photo session so that this isn’t a new, unfamiliar food. You can find (or bake) mini cupcakes for baby to experiment with at home!
If we’re planning an outdoor session, you can even have them try a mini cupcake a few times in your backyard so that they’re exposed to this food in a setting close to what your photo session will be like.
Not a fan of cupcakes or cakes for your first birthday session? No need to worry! I’ve had parents incorporate other favorite foods, like watermelon, and those photos are equally precious!
BONUS TIP: it’s helpful to know if your baby prefers sitting on concrete vs grass! Lots of little ones don’t love the feeling of grass on their feet or legs (if they’re in shorts). In that case, we’ll plan to photograph on a sidewalk, or you can bring a blanket to spread on the grass.
Clients personalize their first birthday sessions with all kinds of sweet extras, like balloons, embroidered outfits that are specifically for the cake smash and sweet cake toppers. If we are photographing this session close to baby’s party, you’ll want to have an extra cake topper at home. They always, always get destroyed during photo sessions!
For mamas who want the best of both worlds – a cake smash without the mess!
There’s actually a third option I offer my clients – a FAKE CAKE that looks real! It gives the illusion of a cake smash, without the hassle that comes with transporting a real cake and cleaning baby up for the car ride home.
The Fake Cake is perfectly sized (and virutally indestructible!) to use at a first birthday photography session. Every time I pull this out at a session, my clients are convinced I mistakenly brought along an actual cake! It’s painted a light brown to mimic the look of cake, and “iced” with a soft white that goes well with any color scheme you select for your session.
I provide the tiny wooden cake stand, along with the eucalyptus and wheat-colored feather decor. You can use this extra decor if you’d like – it’s completely up to you! I created this cake to go along with practically any theme or look that families want for baby’s photos, which gives you ultimate creative control over how these photos look.
Any kind of cake topper that you can easily push into a real cake will work with this one, as long as it has a thin base. The super thick bases that you usually find on blocky numbers don’t work well, though. We can add flowers, trucks, mermaid tails, tiny dinosaurs or any other type of themed items to the top, too!
If you have your own cake stand, you’re welcome to use that too! My Fake Cake is velcro’d to my wooden one so that babies can’t easily knock it off, but it’s simple to set on top of any stand you like!
The Fake Cake is gorgeous in action!
What I love most about the Fake Cake is it takes the headache out of cake smashes for mamas who just don’t want to deal with the mess. It’s also one less thing you have to remember to bring with you to your first birthday photo session!
Rachael and Jordan wanted to celebrate Scarlett’s first birthday using the Fake Cake – and she even added a touch of white icing to baby’s nose and cheeks for a real cake smash look!
I had Rachael wait until our last few shots to add in the icing on Scarlett’s sweet face so we could get a few typical portraits without frosting. Because we used the Fake Cake, she didn’t have to worry about exposing Scarlett to cake and icing beforehand, or stress over whether her daughter would interact with the cake for photos.
The Fake Cake + wooden base are very light, and even if baby goes after them, nothing will break or get ruined! However, your cake topper probably won’t survive the session, which is why I suggest parents have an extra at home for baby’s party.
Combine the Fake Cake with your own REAL cake or CUPCAKES for the ultimate first birthday photography prop!
Lindsey and Blake weren’t afraid of having a messy baby, but they wanted the sweet, clean portraits too. We used the Fake Cake for their precious daughter Ellie’s first birthday session, followed by a couple sweet snaps of REAL cupcakes on top!
Pre-session education is SO IMPORTANT before these super special photos!
Listen, I totally get that these photos are incredibly important to you, and you want gorgeous memories to share with loved ones. Whether you opt for a mess-free session, one with baby covered in icing, or a Fake Cake that gives you the best of both worlds, you deserve a photographer who will walk you through these big decisions in plenty of time to guarantee a stress-free photo session!
I send a pre-session questionnaire to all of my clients planning a first birthday session so that I can best help them plan photos that perfectly execute their vision for memorable photos.
Once I have their responses, it’s simple to create a personalized pre-session to-do list so that mamas can check off all the boxes for beautiful photos and ZERO stress!
I’d love to chat with you about your perfect cake smash session. Just hop over to the Contact tab and tell me all about your plans for beautiful photos!