Easy Tips for Better Smash Cake Photos

Remember when I shared tips for DIY newborn photos when I had the honor to take pics of my nephew Owen?

Believe it or not, that was over a YEAR ago and that little swaddled baby isn’t so tiny anymore.

He just turned ONE and I seriously can’t believe it. How has it already been a whole year?!

To celebrate this little firecracker’s first birthday (which lands on the 4th of July!) my sister asked if I could help her take photos of him enjoying his first “smash cake”. This was my first experience taking smash cake photos, so I was a bit hesitant. Especially since once he gets cake everywhere there’s no starting over on the pics. But like good aunts do, I agreed and did some serious research to prepare.

DIY Smash Cake PhotosSmash Cake Photos

The good news is that we survived the experience and learned A LOT along the way! And after living through the process I’m confident others can DIY their own smash cake photos too.

Hiring a photographer could cost a couple hundred dollars, but we were able to DIY these for under $30. If you have a little one at home or on the way, I hope you bookmark this page and consider documenting this hilarious little tradition yourself. Here are my best tips for getting the “perfect shot”

1. Set the Scene How_to_DIY_Smash_cake_photoshoot_Owen-2

Choosing a “scene” that’s right for the vibe you’re looking for is step one. My sister bought this background/light kit right when Owen was born, and uses it to capture his monthly photos. She loves the white background and knew that’s the same look she wanted for the smash cake photos. We simply added a few paper decorations from Michaels to make it festive for his 4th of July Birthday. Other than those few decorations, we kept it super simple and let him & the cake be the focus.

If you’re nervous about the mess, don’t hesitate to bring your photos outside! Any “setting” will do as long as it is well-lit. If you don’t have lights, try doing it with the baby facing a large window for natural light, or going outside on an overcast day or in a shady spot, to get the best light for your pictures.

2. Save Money on The “Smash Cake” How_to_DIY_Smash_cake_photoshoot_Owen-4

One thing I was shocked by throughout this process was how expensive smash cakes can be. When my sister called the bakery to buy a smash cake she was quoted around $40!!

Instead she talked to the bakery about other cake options (ones that weren’t called smash cakes, but looked similar) and was able to score this cake at over half the price! My best advice would be to call around and do your research to find a good deal. If worst comes to worst, I think buying a naked cake for $10, like we did in this post, and dressing it up the way you want is well worth the savings.

3. Get a Sheet of Plexiglass – GENIUS!! How_to_DIY_Smash_cake_photoshoot_Owen

Smash cake photos are bound to get messy. Expect cake to be all over your baby and everything else within a 3 foot radius. That’s half the fun, right?! If you’re doing the photos in a place where you can’t afford stains (like on Katie’s photo backdrop) this solution will BLOW YOUR MIND!

We bought a piece of plexiglass from Lowe’s and put it under Owen for the pics. Our research told us that this solution would keep the clean-up simple and would eliminate our worries about the potential mess. This smash cake hack was one of the best things we ever did because It worked WONDERS! If you look closely in the photo above you can barely see the layer of plexiglass, yet it made such a difference. After the photo shoot all we had to do was bring it outside and hose it off. Clean up took less than 5 minutes because of this genius idea!

Rookie Tip: You can even use this trick again under your baby’s high chair at the party to keep the clean up simple there too!

4. Enlist a PartnerHow_to_DIY_Smash_cake_photoshoot_Owen-5

I would definitely recommend having 2 adults on hand for this project. Between the set up, the messy cake, keeping the baby’s attention, getting the set and the baby cleaned up– having two people is essential.

5. Capture the DetailsHow_to_DIY_Smash_cake_photoshoot_Owen-8

Getting adorable photos of your little one diving into this mountain of sugar is important, but don’t forget to capture some detail shots. Try capturing his or her little hands digging in…


… or even those little feet covered in icing! The tiny details are just as cute as the “winning shot”.

6. Remember You Only Need a Few Great PhotosHow_to_DIY_Smash_cake_photoshoot_Owen-6

Obviously you don’t know how your little one will react when he or she is exposed to this messy cake for the first time. Will your little one love the cake? Hate the mess? Look super confused? It’s hard to predict, so don’t get stressed out about getting the “perfect shot”. If you end up taking 100+ photos, remember you only need 1 or 2 “keepers”. So don’t worry so much about all of them being perfect. And let’s be honest, sometimes the ones that are imperfect (insert crying baby here) are actually the cutest in the long run!

7. Have Fun!

No matter how your baby reacts, enjoy the process! If your shoot goes anything like ours did, you’ll probably be laughing hysterically at the chaos that’s going on behind the pretty picture. Cake flying, baby crawling, icing everywhere… you just can’t help but laugh at this hilarious tradition. Don’t let the pressure of getting that perfect picture rob you from enjoying this adorable little milestone.

8. Enjoy a Birthday Party with Less PressureOwen_Smash_Cake

My favorite part of this entire DIY Smash Cake photo shoot is that it took ALL the pressure off at the actual first birthday party. Instead of plowing over friends and family to get the perfect shot, the parents were able to be in the moment with their little guy.

9. Use The “Winning” Photo on a Thank YouOwen_Smash_Cake_thank_You

This last one is “extra credit”, but I thought I would throw it in here because I think it’s such a great idea! My sister used the “winning” smash cake photo on her thank you cards from the party.

Because we took the photos a few days before his actual birthday, she was able to order them early and have them all set by the time the party came. I thought it was such a fun and personalized way to say thanks (and hopefully bring a smile) to all of the guests who came to celebrate this little cutie!

10. Other Quick Tips to Consider

  • Putting your baby in a high chair may cut down on the mess because he or she won’t be able to get all dirty and then crawl away from the cake… making more of a mess along the way.
  • If you use a cake stand, I would advise adhering the cake sheet to the platter so your baby can’t push the cake right off the stand.
  • Look for a cake platter that isn’t breakable. We bought this wood one on sale at HomeGoods but there are lots of colorful/plastic ones at craft stores.
  • If you want some 1-year-old milestone photos of your baby, capture a few of those right before you give him or her the cake. The scene is already set and you have all the equipment, it’s easier to get it all done in one swoop if you can. Plus, once he or she gets the cake… there’s no going back!
  • Have the bath all ready to go before starting on the photos! This will ensure the clean-up is as seamless as possible and will cut down on getting cake everywhere in your house.


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.