1st Birthday Photoshoot Tips

When our friends Brian & Ami asked me to take some pictures of their gorgeous daughter Peyton I don’t think they had ANY idea what they were getting in to! Ami confessed later that she thought I’d show up with my camera, snap a few shots and call it a day.

You all know me better than that, right?  I  way overdo everything!

I showed up with: my camera, a pseudo backdrop stand,  a piece of Plexiglas, a bag full of blankets, curtains and fabric for backdrops, a tutu and hat that I ordered from Etsy,  a new external flash unit that I barely know how to use, a little foam thingy I made to diffuse the flash better, a piece of foamcore to bounce that flash off if necessary and a candle for the cupcake that I asked them to buy.

In short, they must have thought I truly had lost my mind.

Normally I would have had them come to our house to avoid having to bring all that gear, but they have an amazing house with huge picture windows facing the hudson river that I thought would give us more natural light.. unfortunately the day was really gray so I had to use my new flash – the one I’d had for about 2 days and only kinda sorta know how to use.

I do know enough to know that you can’t use a flash unit and point it straight at someone’s face, that’s as bad as using the camera’s on board flash which as we spoke about is one of my commandments about what NOT to do.  You have to bounce it off something – usually a ceiling.

Problem being that Brian and Ami’s beautiful house has like 60 foot ceilings in the living room! So I rigged up one of these foam bounce card thingies and crossed my fingers.. and you know what? It sort of worked!

Here are the best shots from the day, first the very few we got with the tutu:


Props vs. teething baby

And the ones with the cupcake:





All images Shot with my CanonRebel  xsi, Sigma 30mm 1.4 lens and canon 430 ex II speedlite at these approximate settings:
SS 1/125
ISO 200-400
Flash on

We didn’t get more with the tutu and hat because Peyton was a little cranky having missed her afternoon nap. She also wasn’t loving the hat or maybe not the tutu either. The other reason is that I was still setting my flash exposure when she struck the best poses! All of the good shots were ruined by way too much flash.

The cupcake photos are glaringly missing something.. the cupcake!

She pretty much ate it before I adjusted my settings and was ready to start shooting. If it weren’t for the candle, she probably wouldn’t have stood still for these at all.

So, here are my does and donts if you plan on doing your own first birthday shoot..

1) Make sure baby is well rested! (a good tip for any shoot)
2) Put an adult in the spot where baby will be and get all your settings correct so you are ready to go the second baby sits in front of that backdrop.. with toddlers you may only get 10 seconds before they crawl away and you don’t want to be caught making adjustments to your exposure like I was.
3) Do have props like the candle or that flower for them to hold/put in mouth – seriously, try to get a 6-12 month old to sit still without SOMETHING to play with and you know what I mean.
4) Use a large piece of plexiglas over your blanket or fabric for baby to sit on so the cake mess doesn’t ruin them.
5) Wait until the time of day when you have the most and softest light and avoid overcast days when light is more scarce.

1) Use a wrinkled background like a white sheet in desperate need of a hot iron
2) Use a plain white cupcake! I asked Brian to pick up the cupcake and he got a six pack of little cupcakes with white frosting. A bigger cupcake would have lasted longer, pink frosting would have looked much cuter – sprinkles even better.

You can see the entire set of pictures, including some that I snapped of Peyton’s gorgeous mommy Ami on my flickr set:

Happy shooting!

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nanette says:

Gorgeous pics! And LOVE the tips!

ariana says:

Hi Angie,
Thanks ;) No, speedlites do not work in drive mode.. they have a bit of what is called “recycle time”. It’s not very long though!

Angie says:

Okay I love the pics. I have the exact same camera… why don’t my pics look like this? :) i have been thinking of purchasing a speedlite flash but don’t know much about them. does it allow you to continually take pics in manual mod? As in hold button down and it continues to fire?

Kimberly says:

Sweet portraits! She’s got such beautiful blue eyes.

Unrelated: I finally was able to upload a video on to my blog! It literally took HOURS. Is there some way to compress it so it can upload faster to blogger that you know of?

Amy, Peytie's nanny says:

Ami showed me the photos (including the ones of her and Bri) and they are awesome! I still think we should get Peyton into some magazine or whatnot ;-)

Farah says:

This is a beautiful lil girl. Man I wish you lived close to me. I could really use extra hands to get great photos of my lil one. It’s hard to do by yourself with a wee one in constant motion

Georgia says:

I put a coffee filter over the built-in flash today and it does diffuse it a bit, but not very well. I’d definitely need to pick up a real flash unit if I was going to employ the flash at any point! A coworker has that same flash unit that you do, so he’s going to let me borrow it and try it out.

ariana says:

Ooops forgot to answer the questions..
Keri, the tutu and hat are hyperlinked in the post, but I got them from this Etsy seller: http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=5618172

Georgia, it is amazing about the bouncecard! I don’t think that you can get similar results with the on camera flash if only because the external unit has SO much more power.. but it’s possible I could be proven wrong.

ariana says:

Thanks guys, and I want you to know that all of you have a standing invitation to come over for a free photoshoot if you are ever in my area! Rockland County NY, just a short train ride away from NYC if you are ever in town…

kari says:

gorgeous photos, darling baby and GREAT tips too!

Sheri says:

Wow, Ariana, these are amazing! Those tutu photos could easily be in a magazine. If you guys ever head out to the Ithaca area, we’d love to have you take some shots of A.

Georgia says:

I’ve been Flickrstalking you this week and noticed those pop online. They’re awesome photographs and you’re an inspiration! I looked at the “better bounce card” video and it’s amazing that a little piece of paper can make pictures so much nice. I don’t have a flash unit (yet), but I hope to get one sometime in the next few months. I try to avoid flash whenever I can. I’m not sure how I can diffuse the default flash that comes with the camera. I don’t want to tape things onto the camera body and leave residue or I’d try to do some trickery with his demonstrations.

jbhat says:

And I too wish I could fly you out for a photo session!

jbhat says:

Those tips are SO helpful, even for a point and shoot person like me.

Even though you feel like you could have done better, I am sure that Brian and Ami are thrilled to have such gorgeous pictures of their wee one at one. What a cutie she is.

Keri says:

Ariana, I meant to tell you that if you lived anywhere near us, I’d pay you to take pictures of Hadley:-)!

Keri says:

These pics are gorgeous, Ariana! I have to admit that I am still guilty of using my flash on my Rebel, but I plan to remedy that as soon as my 1.4 lens comes in. Any day now:-). Oh, and can you tell me where you ordered the tutu and hat on Etsy? I think I have to have those for Hadley’s next photo shoot:-)!!