June 29, 2013

Obligatory Baked Good Destruction a.k.a. Smash Cake

Warning, look away if you have a soft spot for pastries.

Not the messiest cake smasher I’ve ever seen, but she get’s the job done! Click for a larger image

Normally I like to have at least two or three “sessions” for each “shoot”. (Typically I break the sessions out over different days/weeks to deal with baby sized patience levels. Hers and mine.) It can take me that long to get the photo I want. While I’m sure Nicki would love to destroy multiple smash cakes, there’s a limit to how much sugar I am willing to let her ingest. I am only allowing myself one session for this.

I didn’t want to risk my white satin backdrop, as I still need it to complete her baby book, so my first stop was to the craft store to get a background fabric. I know, I know – “real” backdrops are not draped fabrics, but I some fabrics work well enough for a tiny fraction of the cost. I took the diaper cover I was planning on using to the store to pick out a fabric that would go with it that would also be somewhat resilient to having cake smeared all over it. I ended up with a dark brown pleather for $10.78 that I’m planning on reusing.

I knew I was going to use my 35mm prime lens (the 50mm crop would be too tight, and the only other option would have been my kit lens). But what settings should I use? I tend to err on too wide an aperture, and too slow a shutter speed, due to poor lighting in my house. In order to get these settings correct from the start I started playing around. I took a few photos during bath time this past week and learned I needed a shutter speed of 1/320 of a second to freeze a splash. (I normally try to get away with 1/125.) I also tested the shooting space with a few props and learned I needed a f-stop of about f/2.8 to make sure she’d be completely in focus. This left me needing an ISO of at least 400, and I still had a slight under exposure according to my camera’s metering light. The test image, however, looked completely washed out in the “correct” exposure, so I figured I’d go with the under exposure. My guess is the metering light was tricked by the dark background into thinking the image was too dark overall.

At first she just picked off the sprinkles and poked the frosting. Too cute.

I think I like this!

Messy! She loved squishing the cake between her fingers

Nicki realized she could rake her hand across the cake and destroy it that way. Grand fun.

The aftermath

It ended up being more cake destruction than cake eating. I’ve seem much messier faces after spaghetti! But she had a ball with it, and that’s the important thing! At one point I decided to step down my shutter speed to 1/250 seconds. Just one step to try and let in a little more light. Big mistake. She started waving with her hand covered in frosted cake goo and it went everywhere. Of course 1/250 was just slightly too slow and I have motion blur. Live and learn, live and learn.

Set up for the curious:

Materials Cost:
$10.78 – Pleather Backdrop (JoAnn’s)
$9.99 – Clear cake presentation dish (Micheals)
$7.03 – 6″ Cake Pan (Amazon)
$15.36 – Diaper Cover (Amazon, and actually purchased for another photo idea I haven’t gotten around to yet)
Total Cost – $43.16 before tax.

I thought I’d start keeping track of how much these little photography projects (and projects in general) cost. I am a numbers person, after all.

Posted in Photography | Tags: , ,


  1. Okay, can I ask how you set up the backdrop so it looks continuous? You don’t happen to have a zoomed out picture of the setup do you? And where are you shooting in your house with so much light? I’d love to practice and get this down in the 3 months I have until Audra’s birthday 🙂

    • The setup is pretty easy – you just need the right backdrop! I purchased a 2 yard long piece of pleather and tapped it to the wall about 1 yard off the ground. Nicki is sitting on the excess that’s spread out on the floor. I typically setup these types of photos this way. The difference in appearance between these photos and the ones with the Easter eggs (against a satin backdrop) or camera (against a crushed velvet backdrop), is the pleather is firmer. It holds the curve shape in the corner better.

      A couple things to consider when looking at fabric backdrops:
      – Stay away from anything to shiny. Any wrinkle in the backdrop becomes very obvious when it’s shinny. (I had to use the backside of the satin because of this.)
      – Make sure it’s big enough. The bigger backdrop you have the more flexibility you have in the different angles. You also don’t want to put your baby too close to the back wall. The more gradual a curve you make in the fabric, the more seamless the background will appear.

      Alternatively, some folks use plexiglass. You can get plexiglass from any home improvement store like Lowes or Home Depot. You place the plexiglass where you want your baby to sit. The plexiglass acts as a protective barrier between the baby and the backdrop. It also keeps the backdrop flat and forward, preventing a crease from forming in the corner. The last step is to use a graphics program like photoshop to edit out the edges of the plexiglass. Some photographers also manage to capture really nice reflections in the plexiglass, but I find it too reflective for me, so I don’t typically use it.

      The light I used was light from the window. It’s an eastern facing window so I took these photos early in the morning when the sun was low enough to fill the room with light, but high enough so the direct light wouldn’t be on the backdrop.

      I’m afraid I don’t have a zoomed out picture to show you, but I made a little stick figure diagram.

      Hope this helps!


  1. […] to use this number idea. (Since the softer, albeit bigger sprinkles were not a problem on our previous smash cake, I felt safe trying these smaller ones.) Unfortunately I must have forgot to grease the pan and the […]

  2. […] have never given her sugar cookies before. Outside her birthday party and cake smash, we have never given her frosting. Me thinks someone has had frosted sugar cookies at day care […]

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