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Written by: Lizzy McMillan
Celebrating your little one’s first birthday is big milestone! Congratulations on the monumental achievement of keeping your tiny human alive (and keeping most of your sanity) for 365 days!
Documenting your child’s first birthday with a portrait session is a great way to preserve the memories for generations to come. Over the past few years, photographers have been capturing first birthday sessions with a fun “cake smash” set up. The idea is to provide the birthday boy or girl with a mini-cake and photograph the process of him or her enjoying and destroying the cake in the process. The sets range from a simple cake outdoors to elaborate decorations in studio.
Traditional cake smash sessions usually go one of two ways: the baby loves the cake and does not want to stop eating, or the baby wants nothing to do with the cake, resulting in tears! Both scenarios result in adorable images of your little love bug.
A new trend in first birthday sessions is the cake smash “alternative.” Your baby is unique, and your photographer is constantly striving to create custom images that showcase that. A cake smash alternative is a fun spin on the traditional cake smash. The cake is replaced with another fun, messy food that baby enjoys.
Here are a few unique concepts to consider as an alternative to a traditional cake smash:
(Images courtesy of: Cortney Talbott)
The watermelon smash is a cool, refreshing and healthy alternative to cake and is perfect for summer birthdays. It is also a great option for babies that have milk or egg allergies. Photographer Cortney Talbott Photography added extra watermelons to the set create the perfect scene for this birthday girl.
(Images courtesy of: Momento Studios)
Who needs a birthday cake when you can have tacos or burritos? The mix of beans, rice and all the fixings are a fun and messy way to celebrate. Momento Studios captured this little one’s first birthday “Chipotle-style”. Don’t forget the sour cream and guacamole!
(Images courtesy of: Momento Studios)
Donuts are a fun, sweet alternative to the traditional cake. There are many options available, as donuts come in an assortment of shapes and colors. The donuts can be used to decorate the set, but it’s also fun to watch as your child moves around to “taste” little bites out of all of the treats.
(Images courtesy of: Mary Kriss Photography)
Not a fan of cake? How about a huge bowl of spaghetti instead! Babies love digging in to the fun, and messy texture of a bowl of spaghetti. Photographer Mary Kriss captured this little guy’s first birthday, Italian heritage, and his love of spaghetti perfectly. If your little one has a favorite food that relates to your heritage, incorporating that in to his or her first birthday session is a great way to customize your portraits.
(Images courtesy of: Momento Studios)
Who says you can’t play with your food? The yogurt-paint idea knocks that old idea out the window! Yogurt is another healthy alternative over cake. In this series, Momento Studios used food coloring to dye Greek yogurt, and set the stage for a perfectly messy (and edible) painting session.
Cake smash alternatives are all the rage, and it seems the only limit is your creativity. Babies love exploring their world, especially when a variety of colors and textures are involved. These are just a few fun ideas to get the creativity started.
Babies are simply scrumptious to photograph, whether it be a with dslr or an iphone. Creating bright, beautiful pictures is something any parent can achieve. Here are tips from two professional photographers that will work with any camera:
Pick your time
Babies are easiest to photograph when they are fed, dry, warm and content. Grab your camera when you and your baby are relaxed. Let your baby ‘do their thing’ while you simply enjoy a few minutes observing and snapping pictures. If after a while your baby is ready to do something else, put away the camera until another opportunity arises.
Find the light
Most homes have an area that receives plentiful, indirect light. Scope out your home to find this spot! It will probably be near a large, unobstructed window. The more light you have available, the greater chance of capturing images which show off your baby’s beautiful features. Our favorite strategy is to clear a space in a bright area and lay down a few quilts or blankets on the floor. Avoid using a space with harsh direct sunlight.
Don’t be afraid to move distracting furniture like lamps and chairs out of the way temporarily. These objects may create unwanted shapes in the background of your picture and draw the focus away from your baby.
Keep it real
When you look back years later, the most meaningful pictures will be those that truly captured a time and place. Photographing your baby with quirky props will not stir memories of how those first few months really felt.
Dress simply, or not at all!
Avoid “dressing up” your baby in adult style clothes which are gimmicky and will not stand the test of time. Likewise, try not to photograph your baby in a car seat or bouncer since they are typically upholstered with brightly patterned fabric. If in doubt, take off baby’s clothes (leaving the diaper on), swaddle your little one in a solid colored blanket, and lay him on a simple quilt.
Get those details
Take a moment to zoom in on special details like fingers, toes, ears, eyelashes and lips. Because these features change quickly, it is fun to photograph them as your baby grows.
It should go without saying that photographing your baby should not involve risk. Never place your baby in a pose that could be harmful. Any unnatural pose that puts strain on his neck or back should be absolutely avoided. Likewise, do not set your baby in a location where it could roll or fall. To eliminate risk, clear a space on the floor and lay down some blankets, or capture images while your baby is in a bassinet or crib. Perhaps the best and safest place of all to photograph your baby is in the arms of a loved one.
Capturing your baby
Have you ever noticed that the best teachers, pediatricians, babysitters, etc. will always lower themselves to the height of the child they are speaking with? What these gifted child-whisperers know is that children engage best when approached face-to-face. When photographing your baby, you’ll find that the images you take will be significantly more interactive and authentic when shot from their level. This may mean that your baby is not the only one who needs her daily tummy time!
As your baby develops, he will begin interacting with the world around him with a widening spectrum of emotions. To capture the fast-changing faces that reflect your baby’s moods, be sure to set your camera to “continuous release mode.” Even if you are shooting with a camera phone, there is usually a burst mode that allows you to capture multiple pictures in rapid sequence. The more pictures you take, the better the chance you’ll have one that truly captures your little one’s developing personality.
Babies are masters of mimicry and continuously feed off of the emotions of those around them. As your baby’s main photographer, remember to stay positive when you’re capturing pictures of your little one. Often, babies will only smile in response to another smile, which means you may find yourself playing peek-a-boo from behind your camera to get those sweet, toothless grins. Whatever you do, be sure to keep your feelings of frustration at bay as you take pictures of your baby so you don’t transfer any fussiness to your little subject.
Avoid getting bogged down by your hobby
Being organized is not glamorous. No one will compliment for your amazing organization skills. But did you know that being organized makes the creative process much more enjoyable and fulfilling?
FIRST THINGS FIRST
There is nothing more heartbreaking than losing your precious images. Computers do crash — usually at the most inopportune moment. This is the least glamorous but the most important step of being organized, so do your backup FIRST. Decide on a location to store your images besides your computer hard drive and set up a way to automatically backup to this place. You can choose to use an external hard drive or an online service like Dropbox, Amazon Prime, Google, Flickr, iCloud, or the myriad of other services out there. Best practice is to use both and external hard drive and online service. If you haven’t already, back up everything NOW.
NEXT, SET UP A HIERARCHY
The next step is decide a way to keep your images in some kind of order. We use dates and keywords. Pictures are organized in folders by year and month. Within each month, pictures are organized by topic. Within each topic is a folder for all the shots right off the camera and another folder for pictures that have been chosen to be printed.
If you use Lightroom, iPhoto, Aperture or other organizational software you also have the option of tagging your images with keywords. This is an invaluable tool for finding your pictures quickly in the future. It’s pretty likely that your kids are going to need pictures for school projects at very short notice. (Like, 10 minutes before you are trying to head out the door to get to school on time. Perhaps you can relate?) The ability to locate and pull up pictures quickly really does have real-life benefits, its not just for pro photographers.
A FEW SPECIAL SHOTS
Every once is a while you make magic. You know right at the moment that you click the shutter that you’ve got a display-worthy shot. These are the pictures that shouldn’t wait until later to get printed. They deserve special treatment. Get those printed, framed and up on the wall right away!
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of images your photography hobby involves, but remember that family photography is just that, a hobby. You do it for fun. Do NOT get bogged down in perfection; instead, make it a point to get a system in place so that you can keep shooting and ultimately get your images into the hands of your kiddos. Be organized or you’ll soon find yourself under a pile of digital images that will feel more like a burden instead of the sweet memories that they are.
5 Easy Tips to Improve Your Photos
1. Straighten your horizon
A crooked picture just feels… weird. You can solve many problems of composition by keeping an eye on your horizon. You’ll be able to frame up the other parts of your image more thoughtfully if you start with a straight shot.
2. Get lower
Can you think of anything less compelling than a picture of the top of someone’s head? It’s hard to capture a lot of emotion from this perspective! If you are photographing someone smaller than you, like say, your child, get down to his level so that the picture will show some expression. Getting lower has the added benefit of changing the overall perspective of the shot to make it more dynamic and include more background information.
3. Go off-center
Putting your subject front and center in an image is boring. The most powerful points in an image are 1⁄3 across or 1⁄3 up or down, not in the middle. Try creating an image where the subject is not in the center and you will see that it suddenly is much more interesting.
4. Notice shadows
It’s a sunny day, perfect for pulling out the camera and grabbing a few special shots. But when you look at your images it’s painfully obvious that the sun has cast dark shadows into your subject’s eye sockets, giving her a raccoon-like appearance. Before clicking the shutter, have a good look at the direction of the sun. Is it casting strange shadows? Is your child squinting from facing the sun directly? The easiest fix it to find an area that is in total shade. If you can’t do that, try keeping the sun at your subject’s back.
5. Use your manual zoom
There is a powerful piece of photography equipment that you may not even know you own. Have you discovered it? It’s your legs! Rather than cranking your zoom lens, make your images better by moving yourself to a new position. Closer, further, higher, lower. Putting yourself at the ideal vantage point will ultimately give your pictures better composition, cropping and exposure.
Being your family’s journalist
I’ve always believed that one of the biggest privileges of owning a decent camera is the opportunity to capture my children’s lives. In fact, a number of years ago I deemed myself the “Family Journalist” and began to look for opportunities to capture the life of our little clan. Of course, I’m always sure to document the big events and special occasions, but deep down I think the most important part of my self-prescribed role is the way I can document the “everyday” beauty of our family’s existence.
It’s easy to lose motivation in this role, however, because the everyday is just that: every day. Often, we’re uninspired by the things that are constantly around us: another day eating breakfast at the kitchen counter, squirming through homework after school, playing in the sprinkler on hot summer days, brushing teeth and getting ready for bed… and yet…
As a mom of a ten, nine, and six year old, I can now say with 100% certainty that those seemingly endless days of footie pajamas, baby food in the high chair, preschool pick-up, and evening tubbies do, in fact, have an end. I can also guarantee that you’ll be grateful for every single photo you took of those everyday events.
When I’m having a hard time finding motivation to fill my role of “Family Journalist”, I find that there are a few things that help get me back on track:
Change it up
Sometimes, I switch my focus from the kids to their things. Your children’s special things (their lovies, rooms, craft sets, collections, etc…) are important to them and represent a part of their childhood. Pictures of these everyday objects will evoke warm feelings for them years from now… it’s an amazing gift to give each of them!
If you tend to shoot from eye level, try capturing things from an aerial view. If you like to shoot close-up, step back and tell the story from a more epic perspective. You’ll enjoy the shift and you might just find the challenge motivating.
Pull out old pictures
When all else fails, it’s time to excavate some pictures from the past. Take time to revel in the changes your children have made in the short time between now and then. It’s a powerful reminder that our everyday moments grow exponentially in value as the years go by… and there’s no better motivation than that!