Cake Smash Alternatives: Ideas for Memorable First Birthday Photo Shoots

Cake Smash photo shoots have become really popular in recent years and while there is no doubt that these are really fun, the thought of your one year old sitting in front of a gigantic cake might not be what you had in mind when it comes to documenting such a special milestone in your little one’s life.

There are so many alternatives to the traditional cake smash, most of which don’t involve a mess all over your hardwood floors and a tumultuous sugar crash an hour after the photo shoot. 

Your child’s first birthday is such a special milestone and deserves to be documented in a really thoughtful way. 

Your one-year old will have their own blooming personality and have items and rituals that feel really special to them. Before deciding on how to document their first birthday I would invite you to take note of what you and your little one get up to on a typical, family focussed, weekend.

What books does your little one gravitate towards, what are their favourite toys or games to play, what parks do you like to visit and what is their favourite afternoon snack?

All of these details are so important to document and can create a really meaningful first birthday photo shoot.

Part of my approach to photography is having a child-led shoot – what could be better than dedicating a morning to your little one and documenting all the things they love to get up to at this age.

I have come up with a list of six simple alternatives to the traditional cake smash:

1. A simple number 1 birthday balloon

You can go all out and get a whole bunch of balloons in your little one’s favourite colours or get a simple, helium filled, number one foil balloon that can provide many moments of joy.

We could capture the sheer joy and amazement as your little one interacts and plays with the balloons, watching them float in the air or chasing them around on the ground as they hug and kick the balloons.

It also is an opportunity to document the interactions between your little one and the rest of the family. You can all get involved as you enjoy an impromptu game of “keepy uppy” as I capture these playful family moments.

2. Instead of a cake smash why not go on an outdoor adventure?

If your little one loves being outdoors we could spend a morning capturing their wonder and amazement on a special outing you know they will adore such as a trip to the zoo.

We could capture some beautiful images of them looking at the animals, wide eyed with wonder or enjoying a cheeky little ice cream as you wave to the penguins and ring tailed lemurs.

Or what if we spent a morning at your local farmer’s market, where we could capture moments of them trying and tasting different ingredients, selecting their favourite fruits and veggies to be enjoyed as an afternoon snack?

The adventure can be big or small – at that age even a walk to your local park an be a magical adventure.

3. Take inspiration from their favourite bedtime story

What if you all snuggled up together and read Star in a Jar  or your little one’s favourite bedtime story? Imagine all the fun that could be had as you page through the pages watching their little face light up with delight as you read their favourite part over and over again.

We could get some intimate moments of them cosying up next to you, or lots of laughter and giggles as you have a little tickle fight. 

These are the moments we want to bottle up and keep forever. 

Just imagine being able to reflect on their images 10, 15 even 20 years from now as your little one is all grown up. They are going to be so grateful that they have a peek into their past, to see what their bedroom looked like and the funny hairstyles their mum or dad used to think were so cool.

4. Keep some gifts aside to unwrap together

Another lovely idea is to keep a few gifts aside for you to unwrap with your little one – what can be more fun than gigantic pieces of wrapping paper or playing with the box the toy came in?

Let’s admit it, as much as we love to spoil our children with thoughtfully purchased toys – they end up having more fun with the box hehe.

Knowing this, why not get an extra large box that your little one can climb into and play around in. You could fill it up with paper confetti so we can have gorgeous bits of paper floating above their head or why not wrap the presents in beautiful coloured ribbons that your little one can try and unwrap and wave about in pure joy and excitement.

You can join in the fun as you play a simple game of peek-a-boo or what’s in the box?

5. Still want to get a little messy? Why not have a little baking session together in the kitchen and bake your own cake to smash (although smashing it afterwards is completely optional)

This can be a really fun activity and is great if you want to involve some older siblings. 

You can all enjoy some magical moments in the kitchen as you make your little ones favourite sweet treat. Let them get messy as they play in the flour or dip their cute little fingers into the mixing bowl for a sneaky little taste. 

What could be more interesting than a counter filled with different treats and textures that your little one can experience while you share a moment with them. I love these types of ideas because you will forget that I am even there, allowing me to capture honest and magical moments between you and the whole family.

Picture of a one year old with his finger in his birthday cake. They are posing for an alternative cake smash photo session.

6. And my last alternative for a cake smash photo shoot is – to set up a beautiful picnic in your garden or local park

What could be more special than a little outdoor or indoor picnic (if the weather is bad). You could set it up with your little one’s favourite colour in mind and fill a picnic basket with all of their favourite yummy snacks.

We could venture out into the garden amongst all the lush greenery and flowers or take a stroll to your favourite local park for an intimate picnic.

We can get some beautiful images as they taste all of their favourite foods. Why not invite all of their favourite soft toys for a really magical moment that will perfectly capture this moment in time.

I hope this post has sparked some ideas for your little ones first birthday shoot, that aren’t centred around an overly styled cake smash in a photography studio. The most important thing is for you all to have fun and to document all the in-between moments that become authentic-happy memories that will last a lifetime.

If you are excited about booking an at home photo session for your child’s first birthday please get in touch here.

You can also look at my family session galleries for more inspiration and alternatives to the traditional cake smash photo session.

April 1, 2023

About Jess

I am a newborn and family photographer and live in west London with my husband, ten year old daughter and two year old son. Inspired by the magic of childhood and the simple sweetness of everyday moments - I capture genuine and emotive images of family connections without posing or forced smiles. My photography style is very relaxed; perfect for loving families who want to document their family life and children just as they are.

I offer outdoor and at-home photo shoots across London and Surrey including Kensington and Chelsea, Richmond, Kew, Fulham, Putney, Chiswick, Wimbledon, Teddington, Twickenham and Kingston-upon-Thames.

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