How to Plan a 1st Birthday Photoshoot

How to plan a successful DIY photoshoot for your baby’s 1st birthday

Last week I photographed not 1, not 2 but 3 people who share my birthday! I felt a special kinship to each of them simply because we were all born on November 28th. I have always been a big birthday fan- I love throwing big elaborate parties for my kids and think it’s fun to feel special on the one day of the year that should be all about YOU.

So naturally when each of my boys turned 1 I wanted to photograph them eating their cake…I envisioned all the cute photos of babies going to town, smashing cakes and making huge messes. My kids had different plans. My first 2 daintily ate the berries off the top of their cakes. My third did a pretty good job of getting messy, but still kind of lackluster in the excitement department. Is your baby about to turn 1? Here’s a few key things to think about when planning for your baby’s big day!

1. Manage Expectations

In the past 4 years with Glean & Co Photography in Boise, Idaho, I’ve photographed dozens of cake smashes. Over that time, I’ve discovered that the majority of babies are not nearly as excited as we may want them to be to smash a cake. Some babies are more expressive than others, some are more aggressive than others, some are nervous in front of the camera and some are total hams. The thing to remember though is that this is often a true example of your child!

One of the very first smashes I photographed for a paying client was a little girl who cried BIG crocodile tears the entire time we were taking her picture. I was afraid the mom would be upset but she said “that’s just her in a nutshell!” When my first born daintily ate those berries I was so disappointed- now that I know him as an 8 year old I know that he’s pretty reserved, a little camera shy and has a little too much dignity to want to be in the spotlight a ton. It makes sense that he didn’t show boat for my camera or get super messy, it’s just not who he is… and that’s ok. I captured HIM that day, not some variation of him I made up in my mind.

So remember to manage expectations- put the cake in front of them and see what they do. Snap Snap Snap, gathering all those memories into your camera, not matter what they happen to look like.

Pro Tip: While many babies may not be excited about the cake smash part, almost all of them love a warm bubble bath cleanup. Photograph the cleanup as well as the smash to document the whole experience.

2. Plan in advance

Decide in advance on the look and feel you want for your images. Do you want a “clean” studio background look? Check out my full how to guide for magical milestones  which includes complete set up instructions to create your own at home studio. (The entire set up can be built for about $20 + some fabric) You can use it with garage lighting or a big window inside!

If studio backgrounds aren’t your favorite, you may want to consider an outdoors shoot instead. Look for a shaded area with nice even lighting and no bright sun spots. I love to find areas that are a little wild as opposed to a groomed lawn or park setting!

No matter if you’re doing a setup in your home or in the great outdoors you’re going to want the following items:

  • Your Camera of Choice (obviously!)
  • A Cake Stand or slab of some nature (non breakable)
  • Cake*
  • Cute outfit or diaper cover
  • Baby Wipes
  • Garbage Bag
  • Clean outfit for after for both baby and you
  • If you’re outdoors I’d also consider some kind of blanket or ground covering- especially if you’re off the path a bit and baby isn’t wearing shoes. Make sure it’s washable or something you don’t mind throwing away afterward!
  • Optional: Large Bucket or Tub + Bubble bath + Warm Water+Fresh Towel for a bubble bath cleanup!

A Note about cake choice:

Many parents opt for the expensive cake because 1) it looks pretty and 2) they think they’ll all be able to enjoy it after baby has the first go. I promise you’re not going to want to eat that cake when they’re done! Especially if you opt for an outdoor shoot. While baby may encourage you to have a few bites during the smash, it’s probably going straight in the trash can when photos are done. Not to deter you from getting the expensive cake- they really are gorgeous and make for beautiful photos! But do it for the look, not because you think you’ll get to eat it.

Mess Factor: If you want baby to look fairly clean in these photos, opt for a white cake and white frosting. If you want to really encourage messy, I highly recommend a colored or chocolate frosting that will show up better in the images!

Frosting Tip: avoid fondant as it can be hard for baby to break through with their fingers and if the cake is refrigerated prior to the session be sure to take it out about an hour before so the frosting is either to get through.

3. Think Outside the Box (or Cake!)

You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing- if you don’t want a big theme, keep it simple! But if your baby has a special something about their birthday- like this little girl who was born on Halloween- then play it up!

 Don’t want your baby to have cake at all? Do an alternative smash- Here’s a list of non cake things that would be just as cute to smash and unique to your child:

  • spaghetti
  • pie (born on March 14th? This is the smash for you)
  • donuts
  • tacos
  • sweet potatoes
  • thanksgiving dinner (Share a birthday with me? Perhaps this is the right choice!)

Or hey- who says it has to be food? Give your baby a white background, some non-toxic paint and see what kind of beautiful creation they can come up with. Photograph the heck out of it and then follow it up with that beloved bubble bath cleanup.

4. Include the siblings/parents/grandparents, etc!

Yes, of course this day is suppose to be about the baby turning one but it’s also so fun to get in on the action with them! Set up a timer to take a group photo or hand it off to a birthday guest. Make sure you get some pictures of baby feeding cake to mom and dad or big sister with frosting on her nose. Have fun and embrace the mess all around.


Want more tips and tricks to photographing your baby? Come follow along on Instagram @gleanandco for more weekly tips, photo projects, studio construction updates and all things baby and family photography. And check out all of our digital courses currently available over at the Glean Photography Academy!  Want to schedule a professional photo session with Glean and Co? Head here  to learn more about investing in your memories and creating art starring your favorite people in the world.



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