DIY Cake Smash Photoshoot From A to Z

As you all know from previous party blog posts I’ve done (like Liam’s western-themed 1st birthday, clubhouse-themed 2nd, or pirate-themed 3rd), we like to go big for our kids’ birthdays. When I say “we”, I really mean I.

I do.

I’m a crafty person who finds it therapeutic (and maybe a tiny bit stressful, not gonna lie) to browse Pinterest to find a bunch of fun crafts to put together for an event. There’s something really fun about creating kids’ parties from scratch. Especially for Liam’s third birthday, all the hard work paid off because of how excited he was. There truly were stars in his eyes the entire time. He talks about his party to this day, and that makes this Mama really darn happy. That’s what it’s all about.

Come second kid’s first birthday.

I had huge plans for this little guy, too. I had the idea to put together a “Wild One” party, jungle style. Banana leaves, plush giraffes and lions, leopard-themed balloon arches, safari attire for the fam, all the fun stuff… But, after having to go to France for a family trip, and really putting all of my energy towards making it a safe, comfortable trip for the kids (six hour time differences ain’t no joke for a 10 month old and three-year-old), I changed my mind entirely.

Granted, we went through an emotionally challenging holiday season due to a family health issue (that I won’t get into today), but I realized I wasn’t excited at all anymore about the party. I was dreading the invitations, the preparations, the work, the chaos of the event itself… basically everything I usually loved to do was giving me major anxiety. My mind was busy with other, more important things.

I decided I wasn’t going to force a party that didn’t make me excited to put together, and one that my one-year-old could not care less about, either. When you really think about it, a first birthday is 100% for the adults. And for the photos.

It took such an enormous weight off my shoulders to just be like, okay, all you need to put together is a cake smash. With a few decorations and family members who can make it. Just so you have the photos and the memory. And your kid doesn’t hate you for not throwing him even the tiniest first birthday, and his brother got a western-themed extravaganza.

(Joe laughs at me when I say that. He says boys don’t care about that stuff. But ya never know! I still wanted to do something.)

Based on the photos we got from yesterday’s cake smash, I think I did a good job. And it took very minimal effort. Which is why, as a mom speaking to moms behind their own laptops scrambling from easy birthday ideas, I have a responsibility to share how I did it. And if you can take even one piece of advice from this post, one hack that will save you some trouble or anxiety, then my job is done.

P.S.) Noah didn’t love smashing cake. Unlike Liam, who cried when we took the cake away from him during his cake smash, Noah cried and cried until we took it away an gave him a small piece to work with. I guess a whole cake was too overwhelming? He cried hysterically during 80% of the shoot, was teary eyed and skeptical during 10%, and housed cake during a lucky 10% when he finally realized the cake tasted just like good ol’ banana bread. Oh, kids.

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Etsy or Amazon should be your first stops, because they just have an endless amount of options. I love being able to customize the writing, font, etc. on Etsy. So many possibilities! I found Noah’s two onesies on Amazon and The Children’s Place. I couldn’t believe that The Children’s Place had exactly what I was looking for, lion and all, and that size 9-12 months fit my chunky baby who usually needs 18 month clothing.

Noah’s adorable “1” crown is from Penny & Gigi.

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I’ve got a great hack for your backdrop: I got a 16 foot long thick paper roll on Amazon,  taped it to our brightest living room wall, and rolled it out on the floor a bit for a unified white backdrop. It worked so well for the photos, both on the floor and in Noah’s highchair. I think I spent $30 on the roll and plan on using it again for future shoots.

Decoration-wise, I kept it simple. I got a large banana leaf banner and high chair banner from A Pair of Wildflowers, jungle print balloons from Amazon, and a cute “ONE” cake topper and decorative banner from Cute Sophia. Our Melissa & Doug giraffe also made an appearance and completed the backdrop. And that’s it!

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I followed this recipe, by Posh in Progress. It was so amazing, guys. Total success! The one thing I did differently was that I baked the cake in two 6×3 round cake pans instead of baking one long cake then cutting three circles out of it. I found it super easy to do with two small cake pans and recommend this little adjustment to the recipe. My cake only had two layers, not three, and it was the perfect height. I decided to keep the cake simple (just white frosting) instead of decorating it. I figured the topper would complete the cake.

Here is a photo of the cake after Noah and Liam took a first bite. I’m pretty darn proud at my first two-layer cake attempt, so please let me enjoy my moment, thank you 😉

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My first tip is to remember to just go with the flow. You’re working with the hardest subject–an infant–so just get the best pics you can get and don’t hesitate to take a break and start over later. I took Noah’s 12 month milestone pics in the morning and did the cake smash in the afternoon. Children (especially babies) have short attention spans, so follow your child’s lead. In terms of light, I like to take indoor photos between 11am and 4pm for optimal natural light. I had really pretty lighting at 2pm for the cake smash photos.

My second tip is to never try to squeeze in a shoot when your baby is due for a nap or a meal. Obviously you want your child to be well fed and well rested to ensure you’ll get a few smiles and no crankiness. Of course, even when you do it all right, you can’t guarantee it’ll all go smoothly, but it’s one thing you can do to make sure your baby is happy.

My third tip is to have a few hands on deck. In the morning, I did the milestones by myself when Joe took Liam to karate and it was difficult to keep adjusting him, fixing the props, trying to make him giggle, and getting good photos at the same time. In the afternoon, it was helpful to have my husband make faces at him for smiles, my sister in law fixing the decor if needed, while I focused on photos alone. Again, totally doable alone, but a lot less stressful to have some help.

And my fourth and final tip: have a sense of humor!

There you have it, guys! Hope your DIY cake smash shoot is a success, and do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions 🙂

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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