4 Photography Tips for Capturing the First Birthday (and beyond!)

Image via Mindi Stavish

A few years ago, I took a photography class to learn how to shoot in manual mode and haven't looked back. I was tired of using my DSLR camera on auto mode to take less-than-good photos of my children, including special occasions such as birthdays. My youngest, Ryker, turned 1 on June 10, and we had an elephant-themed first-birthday party for him two weeks after his actual birthday. After throwing many kid birthday parties, I have learned a few things about what works and what doesn't work for photographing the first birthday (and beyond).

Here are my must-do tips!

little hands in cake
Image via Mindi Stavish

Plan Ahead

Before the party, make a list of 10-15 images you must have so you can focus on a set few. I find that if I try to capture each and every aspect of the party, I don't feel 100% present. I'm always running around looking for that perfect shot and miss out on actually enjoying the moment. When I focus on the images I want, I can then put down my camera and focus on the birthday boy and my family and my friends.

Must-have images may include:

  • Child with family members (grandparents, siblings, YOU, etc.)
  • Child opening a present (you probably don't need 50 images of your child sitting in front of wrapping paper and boxes)
  • Small details of your child at this age that you never want to forget, such as their chubby little wrists or their tiny feet
  • The party details: cake, decorations, balloons, etc.
  • Singing of happy birthday
  • Child eating his or her cake (more on this later …)
Cake session
Image via Mindi Stavish

Separate Photography Celebration for the Cake

Do you want to capture your baby's expressions and delight as they savor their first bites of cake? If so, then you may want to consider doing a separate cake-smash session with them so you can get the images you want. If you choose to do a cake-smash mini photo session with your little one, you can control the lighting and, more importantly, you won't have unwanted people in your shot. It's inevitable–whenever the cake comes out, everyone feels the need to stand right next to and behind baby. This makes your job as photographer difficult since you won't be able to catch the smaller details of your baby with someone's hands, legs, or, even worse, a crotch behind them. Also, a mini photo shoot allows you to control the backdrop of the cake smash, yet another element that can strongly enhance cake smash photos.

{ MORE: Chicken Asparagus Roll Ups }

Once you have done a cake smash photo session before the party, you can relax at the party and enjoy the moment. You may even want to get in on the cake smash and let someone else take pictures of you!


Image via Mindi Stavish

Pay Attention to the Light

If you want to improve the quality of your photos, you must turn off your flash. When you use your flash to fill in the light, you are left with harsh shadows, red eyes, and often over-exposed images. Obviously, outside parties are much easier than inside ones in terms of having enough light. For indoor parties, adjust the ISO on your camera to allow your shutter to let in more light. Here is a quick video tutorial on adjusting your ISO. For outdoor photos, try to avoid taking photos in direct sunlight. Instead, try to set up most of the party in the shade or set the time for mid-morning or late afternoon. Yes, I plan my parties around the time of the day that provides the best lighting for photography. My husband calls me crazy, but I call it practical.

Image via Flickr/ naixn

Let Someone Else Take Over

If you can afford the expense, hire a professional event photographer to capture the day. Event photographers range between $100-$300 or more per event. One of the best things about hiring someone is that you are guaranteed to be in the photos.

If you can't or don't want to hire someone, have a trusted friend or family member do it. Capture all the birthday details before the party and then hand your camera over. If possible, choose someone who knows the basics about focusing and photo composition.

{ MORE: Why Three Bites of Baby Food Changed My Life }

What is your favorite first birthday photo?

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4 Photography Tips for Capturing the First Birthday (and beyond!)

Mindi is a working mom with three boys ages 4, 2, and an infant (born June 2013). She spent her first 8 years of her career in Speech-Language Pathology at a Children's Hospital. She currently works with adults and children in home health. The real fun for her happens when she is at home with her boys, chasing them around and pretending to be a super hero. She blogs about life as a working mom at Simply Stavish. Her weekly feature, Words in the Sand, teaches parents how to grow their child's s ... More

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  1. Alicia says:

    This tips are awesome! Thanks so much for sharing. I’m definitely going to write my must-have moments.


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