DIY Cake Smash Photo Session

Shortly before little dude turned a year old, I was introduced to the ‘cake smash’ photo session. I loved the idea and started to research my area for a photographer who offered this type of session. I found two professional photographers in my area, neither of which charged under $200 for the session. I’ve heard you can do them at the mall studios, but I have never been a fan of mall portraits.

As a hobbyist photographer, I decided I wanted to tackle it on my own. I knew I couldn’t get the exact professional look, but I wanted something more formal than a kid in a high chair with the messy dining room table in the background.

I enjoyed little dude’s shoot so much, two years later, I still do them for friends.

For the cake, I wanted to aim for the giant cupcake I’d seen in some sessions on Pinterest. My local bakery wanted $40 for a giant cupcake. I did some browsing and purchased this silicone pan from Amazon for $20. 

The instructions with the cupcake pan suggest one box of cake mix is fine, but in a trial run I found it to be a bit short. I usually opt to make two boxes, fill the pans above the fill line, and make regular sized cupcakes with the remaining batter. (This is a great idea if there is an older sibling, then they can still get a cupcake and not feel left out). When filling the pans a bit high, they will rise in the oven. I cut them flush before putting the pieces together. Due to the larger cake pan size, I find the top section needs about 40-45 minutes to cook, where the bottom typically takes about an hour.

It is very important to let the bottom cool COMPLETELY before taking it out of the pan. If taken out too early, the sides can crack and you run the risk of it not being able to support the top piece.  

I buy pre-colored frosting (or white) and use food coloring with my Kitchenaid mixer. For most of the frosting colors desired, I find the Neon food coloring gives a much better outcome than the typical red-green-yellow-blue box. The blue frosting for little dude’s cake is from the neon box.

*Sugar free cake mix and sugar free Cool Whip or whipped cream are alternatives to those hesitant to putting a giant cake in front of a little one. You could generate a pink frosting using beet juice if food coloring is a cause of concern or an allergy. In my experience, very little of the cake and frosting are actually consumed, so I usually proceed with regular cake and frosting.

I struggled with the background for a few days. I had a perfect spot to take the photos, but didn’t want a plain white wall, the electrical socket, or dirty floor boards showing either. At first I tried fabric. I couldn’t get the smooth look I was going for.

For some reason I thought to try wrapping paper: cheap, light enough to hold to the wall with scotch tape, and fast and easy clean up.

Then I go to the local party store the morning of the shoot and buy 4 helium balloons for the backdrop. The cheap balloons only last for 8-10 hours, so if you buy them the night before you run the risk of flat, sinking balloons come photo time. I’ve tried just blowing them up and taping them to the backdrop, but the child took the balloon off the backdrop, which pulled the color off of the wrapping paper, leaving an empty white space on the backdrop. Helium really works best. I just tape the ribbon down to the floor so they stay in the frame with the child and cake.

One item that I really relied on for my shoots is an external flash. I did my first shoot with a Canon Xsi DSLR. I use the internal pop-up flash as infrequently as possible. I used an external flash (Canon 430ex ii Speedlite picked up for $80 on eBay). If you don’t have an external flash, take some practice shots at various times of the day in a location where there is ample natural light to see what time would work best for lighting with no shadows, nasty sun glares, etc.

Tips for day of shoot:

  • Frost the cake shortly before the shoot. If you have to do it the night before, take it out of the fridge at least an hour before the shoot. You want room temperature frosting, it’ll make a better mess.
  • Have someone help you tape up the wrapping paper. Doing it on your own, you’re more likely to get some areas that aren’t entirely smooth.
  • Don’t wear anything you don’t want to get dirty; you will get dirty.
  • Check the time that your local party store opens. Mine opens at ten, meaning I can’t plan a shoot any earlier than 10:30-11:00
  • Bring the wrapping paper you’ll be using for the backdrop to the party store. This helps coordinate the balloons.
  • Have a snack that your child loves easily at hand. Some kids dive right in, while others are really hesitant. If you stick some puffs or snack of choice on the back of the cake, this usually prompts the child to grab the snack, which gets lost in frosting, and still gives you the end photo you’re aiming for.
  • Don’t forget to get a photo of the “after math”. Some of my favorite photos are just a mess of cake and frosting on the floor

Total cost: $29.99 (plus ALL rights to every photo taken!)

  • Wrapping paper= $1.99
  • Helium balloons= $4
  • Cake mix & frosting= $4
  • Cake pan = $20
    (I’d like to note here that this was a sound investment for me. $20 for one shoot may seem steep for someone on a budget, but I have used this pan for birthday photos every year for the last 3 years, plus have done about half a dozen shoots for friends)

5 Responses to DIY Cake Smash Photo Session

  1. This is so awesome, thank you for sharing. I love the aftermath photos too!

  2. Michele Rodocker Reply

    Thank you for sharing this! My little guy will be one in September, and I’d love to do this on my own. Now that I’ve seen your tips- I’m able to rethink my strategy. Thanks!

  3. Michele Rodocker Reply

    Thanks for this article- I’ve often wondered about doing the shoot myself. My little guy will be one in September and after reading your tips, I am confident I can pull it off. Thanks!

  4. Awesome! Thank you for sharing! My DDs first bday is coming up September 4th ! This will definitely come in Handy ! :)

  5. Pingback: 21 DIY Photography Backdrops - Mom and the Squabbling Squabblers

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