A lot of people in my life comment on how cute my son is when they see photos of him online. I think my son is totally adorable too , and of course I love showing him in the best possible light.
But the truth is that I usually have to take several less-than-perfect shots before I get "the one". The truth is, most of the time when I want to photograph him, he doesn't really feel like being photographed, so I have to work hard to get a smile, or put the camera away and try again when he's in a better mood.
The truth is, sometimes he doesn't want to do what I want him to do.
I'm sure this comes as a surprise to no one!
Around his first birthday, I really wanted to do a cake smash session with him. A cake smash is where you set a pretty cake in front of a cute kid and photograph the kid eating the cake and/or tearing it to bits and getting covered with icing. Now you may be wondering why on earth I would ever want to do such a thing. Call me crazy, but I think it's adorable.
I went on Pinterest to find a cute cake that I thought might be simple to recreate (this was my first mistake). I chose one with an ombre-style (light to dark) rosette frosting that didn't look too crazy difficult. I consulted my Fanny Farmer cookbook and made a cake from scratch.
And it was hideous.
Truth is, it turns out that I'm not much of a cake-maker. I'm an artist! I'm more of a "dash of this, dash of that" kind of cook, which really does not fly in baking. I'm not precise enough or scientific enough. Plus, I'm always espousing the merits of hiring professionals, so I really should have known better. If I'm honest with myself, I sort-of did. But I did it anyway.
We had a busy week at our house that week, so the cake sat for a couple of days before I could get my son into the studio. No big deal, I thought. It'll be fine. I wasn't expecting him to eat much of it anyway, I mostly just wanted him covered in frosting. Mistake number two.
The day finally came. I roped my husband into coming with me to help. I realized that the trifecta of expensive camera gear, shared studio space, and a cake-covered kid could go south real fast if I was on my own. So we went on Friday after my husband got home from work.
I'm sure you can guess what happened next.
My son was in a very bad mood and would absolutely not cooperate. Like, not at all. We tried for about 30 minutes, and I don't think we even put the cake near him. We did not get one usable image. He just cried the whole time. He absolutely did not want to be photographed at all.
So we went home.
And it was a really frustrating experience for all 3 of us.
We decided to try again the next morning. Mornings are way better for most kids, and mine is no exception, so (again) I should have realized the dinner-time photo shoot would be a bust. If I'm honest with myself (again), I sort of did.
We got to the studio Saturday morning, and I made an executive decision to get some establishing shots of my son first in 2 different outfits before he was covered in icing, just in case the cake smash did not go as planned (Psychic premonition? Keep reading to find out). He was about to turn one, and I really wanted to remember him as he was, cake or no cake.
And it went pretty well. I got a few shots I'm really, really happy with, including these two:
I love them because they're him through and through; they show his sweetness and playfulness, and they really represent him at this time in his life. I'm so glad I photographed him this way. I know it may sound corny, but I feel like I will always cherish them.
When it came time for the cake smash, though, he just wasn't having it. He didn't want to go near the cake. He cried and cried. He was absolutely, no way, no how, going to touch, eat, or in any way be around that cake with a smile on his face. Never mind that by that time, the cake was basically petrified and was solid as a rock, icing included. We tried for a few minutes, but this is what most of the shots looked like before I called it off:
Why am I telling you this? Because sometimes we get so focused on what WE want our kids to do that we forget that kids are people too, and they have likes and dislikes, good days and bad days, they are FULL of personality, and most of all they need to exercise a certain degree of AGENCY in their lives because so much of their lives are out of their control.
I'm not into forcing kids to do things they don't want to do just to get a shot. I won't do it with my newborn photography posing, and I won't do it with my baby and child photography. Will I TRY a shot and see if a kid is willing to cooperate? Yes. Will I try to help a shy kid relax by being goofy and joking in hopes that they start to feel more comfortable to just be themselves? Absolutely. Will I suggest an alternate pose or prop to see if that helps them warm up to the idea? You betcha! But that's about the extent of it. If they don't want to do something, I will move on to something they DO want to do. Or we'll give them a few minutes to play, because really that's what they want to be doing. Or we'll call off the session and reschedule if it's really not happening.
Even if it's inconvenient.
Do I regret trying this cake smash with my son? No. Why? Because I wouldn't have gotten the two shots where he is happy and truly himself if I didn't plan the cake smash. But the truth is, I would rather appreciate the images I got out of the session than cling to an unrealistic expectation of what I wanted to get out of the session and be disappointed.
As a parent myself, I KNOW it's frustrating when you plan something and your child has a meltdown the likes of which you have never seen just prior to leaving the house/being photographed/etc, etc, etc. I KNOW!!! I'm not judging you for how you handle your kid's meltdowns, honest. I just want you to know that when you DO see the "perfect pictures" of my son, or other people's kids, there was often A LOT of work, snacks, outfit changes, negotiations (ahem, bribes), silliness, breaks, playing and so forth that went into that image.
But more than than, there was a willingness to veer off course if necessary, and work with and honour the child on their terms.
So what's the take home message here? When photographing babies and children (as with much of life, I'm noticing) things often go much smoother when we pay attention to, and work with, what "is" versus clinging to whatever our notion of perfection is.
(Oh, and remember that if you want a professional result, it really does pay to hire a professional. I speak from experience)