Tips for a Successful First Birthday Shoot

In just a little over a month, our Oliver will be one-year-old!

In many ways, this year has flown by. But there were certainly a few days I never thought would end. We had a rough few months there for awhile!

But he’s a growing, happy, and thriving little boy right now, and our lives wouldn’t be as full and happy without him.

It makes me sad to think that his first year is almost over, but I am excited to celebrate his sweet little self in a few weeks.

With both of my boys, I’ve made it a priority to have professional photos taken every three months. I just think they change so much over the first year, and I love having some really nice photos to display forever.

I’ve taken most of Oliver’s, since portrait photography is something I’ve really tried hard to perfect, and I have loved taking them. I mean, when you have gorgeous blue eyes like him…who wouldn’t?! I’m really excited about his first birthday shoot, so I thought I’d share a few tips on how to have a successful first birthday photo shoot.

These tips are great for people taking their baby to a professional, but I’ve also included a few tips at the end for those of you who want to try and take your own!

Thank you to Burt’s Bees Baby for sponsoring this post!

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As much as you can hope that everything will go as planned…it probably won’t 🙂 Just be flexible and roll with the punches. Maybe your baby won’t smile at all – that’s okay! They might be more interested in crawling away than standing in the perfectly posed position. However, I think capturing the candid moments are the ones you will want 20 years down the road anyway!

Clothing Tips

I think it’s important to make sure your baby is comfortable! There are a lot of cute outfits out there, but if they aren’t comfortable, it will show.

Try and pick colors that go well with your baby’s skin tone, hair color, etc. I always love blues on Oliver, because it really seems to make his eyes pop. I would also avoid any outfits with any cutesy phrases or pictures on them – just because it can be a bit distracting. You want your baby to be the focus!

You should also keep wardrobe changes to a minimum. I think that most babies have just a short amount of time where they are happy, smiling, and ready for their pictures to be taken…and I don’t think that you want to waste that time changing into a million different outfits! We did two outfit changes with Jack, and it was perfect.

We personally love the Burt’s Bees Baby’s clothing line. Their items are SO soft, and they are quite fashionable, too. We recently picked up a few items from the Burt’s Bees Baby’s Fall Collection, and I’m in love. Not only are they affordable, but they are 100% organic.

first-birthday-shoot (3 of 4)

Totally perfect for his upcoming birthday shoot. We got a few different outfits, but my favorite was definitely this sweater and sweatpants. I wish they came in my size – they are so stylish and adorable! They also make me wish it was fall time, so I could justify letting him wear these for longer than an hour.

Know your style

There are a lot of different poses and styles for photo shoots – regardless of the age of the child. I think it’s a good idea to have in mind what you want out of the shoot. Lifestyle shoots with beautiful outdoor lighting is all the rage right now, but if you want something a little more classic, that’s fine too!

I strongly suggest checking out Pinterest. There are tons of different poses and ideas for first birthday shoots. Whether you want a cake smash session or a portrait in a professional studio – know what you want and find someone who is able to do that for you!

If you are having a photographer take the pictures, communicate with them! Let them know what you are wanting out of the shoot. When I had Jack’s shoot down, our photographer sent me a questionnaire to ask me about what I was hoping to get out of the shoot. I really loved that!  Looking at Jack’s photos now, it’s really not my style now at all…but I loved it back then!


Pick the Right Time of Day

If you are doing photography outside of a professional studio, most photographers will request the shoot to be earlier in the morning or shortly before the sun starts to set (more on that in a bit). I would pick the time that your baby is most likely to be happy. For us, Oliver doesn’t even wake up until about 9:30 most days, so early wouldn’t work so well. We try to take most of his pictures in the early evening.

You want to make sure baby is well-rested and well-fed. Feed them right before if you can so they aren’t looking around to nurse or for their bottle the whole time.

Bring Snacks

I just think snacks make everything easier. I don’t know about your kids, but my Oliver is obsessed with eating. Besides nursing and cuddling his mama, food of any kind if sure to calm him down and elicit a smile.

Bring Props

Your photographer may bring different props – and you can certainly ask them if they have any. But feel free to bring your own or make suggestions about what you want. When I worked at the Target Portrait studio, we always encouraged people to bring their child’s favorite toy, blanket, or stuffed animal. Not only will it help the child feel more comfortable, but it’s fun to be able to remember what they loved at that age.

Here are a few things you may want to consider:


There was a fun wall behind Jack in one of his one-year-old pictures, and I had the photographer photoshop some fun “stats” in about Jack at the age of one. It was one of my favorite pictures!


Have Other People There

Oliver is at a stage where, if I try to take a picture, he will not smile. Well, unless I’m doing a selfie with him, and he can see both of us in the camera lens. Otherwise, I end up with a lot of photos like this:

first-birthday-shoot (2 of 4)

So I think it’s a good idea to have other people there to try and make baby smile and laugh. I know that I’m far more likely to get a sweet picture like this when I have Forrest or Jack making a face (or if I just hand the camera to Forrest, so Oliver can once again see my face).

first-birthday-shoot (4 of 4)

DIY First Birthday Photo Shoot Tips

Perhaps you want to do it yourself – more power to you! I will tell you this – having a nice camera does not always equal taking nice pictures. It takes a lot of work to get the correct settings and the lighting just right. However, if you are wanting to try, then I think that’s just great.

First off, make sure you practice before. Look for the perfect lighting. Unless you are really handy, I would avoid trying to do too many backlit photos, simply because they are hard to master!

The Golden Hours

The golden hours are a photographer’s best friend. It’s when the lighting from the day is the best and provides a gorgeous tone.


I love using the shade for a photo shoot – especially if we aren’t able to take pictures during the ideal Golden Hour! It can help ward of yucky casts from the sun that might ruin a picture. So when you are looking for a location, make sure there’s plenty of shade. I LOVE shooting on an overcast day.

I think the best way to position your child is with the light to the right or left of them. I’ve made the mistake of taking pictures with people staring right into the sun, and that just didn’t go over very well.


If you are indoor – which is great for a cake smash – taking photos near a large window will always be your best bet.

Get On Their Level

Get down on your knees! I think children respond better when you are closer to them.

With that said, you can definitely play around with where you are taking photos. You can take some gorgeous photos looking over their shoulder (perhaps with them looking at their newborn picture) or by doing a bird’s eye photo. Try a variety of things!


I do recommend using a higher quality camera IF you are wanting professional level photos. You can definitely take photos with your regular point and shoot. But these tips are more for people wanting a higher quality photo.

I personally use a Nikon D7100. However, I used a Nikon D3100 for the longest time (I think the newest version is the D3300?) I use either a 50mm lens or my Sigma 24-70. The 50mm is great for close ups and head shots, and the 24-70 is great for all around photography.

Consider using a Zoom Lens

While I absolutely love how beautiful the pictures from a 50mm lens are, I think that sometimes, it’s better to take a photo from a distance – especially if your child seems to not want to smile or look at you. If they feel like they are more in their “element” and not posing for a photo shoot, they might be more willing to act natural.

Use a Fast Shutter Speed

I recommend shooting in manual, or at least in shutter speed priority mode so you can control how fast the shutter shoots at. Children are fast, and you don’t want to end up with a big blur in all your pictures! By setting a fast shutter speed, you can catch them if they start to walk or crawl away.

Keep Aperture Low

I know some of these words probably seem foreign (and if you aren’t using a DSLR, you may not be able to control these). This is a great explanation of aperture. By keeping the aperture as low as possible (on my 50mm, that is 1.8. on my 24-70, it’s 2.8 or something like that), you can make sure you are getting super crisp, in focus photos of your child’s face.

Practice and Training

Practice before the big day! Take your children outside and practice taking photos of them. Look for great light! Check out poses online and figure out what you think is going to be the best for your child.

I personally LOVE CreativeLive when it comes to their courses. They offer LIVE free classes in a variety of things – such as photography – or you can purchase them afterward. They have an excellent selection of photography courses, including ones for family and children portrait photography.


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