When my godson turned one, his mum asked me if I would like to photograph him in a cake smash photo shoot. Of course I said yes – I was so excited and thought it would be the best thing ever.
We set up the bunting, foil balloon, gorgeous cake, bow tie for the birthday boy, checked the lighting, looked through the #cakesmash hashtag on Instagram for inspiration, camera ready and … my godson was hysterical from the minute he touched the cake.
He was screaming and crying, madly crawling away from the cake. Both his mum and I were shocked. We tried everything to make him smile and encourage him to smash the cake, dancing around and being silly.
Nothing worked. He just was not into it.
We postponed the shoot for the next day … and the next day he did it again.
His mum wanted the cake smash images to frame and use at his birthday party, so, like all good mums, we faked it. We smeared cake on the floor, crumbled up cupcakes, broke up his cake, and in the moments he wasn't crying I snapped just enough images to make his mum happy.
The end result was a hashtag you never see on social media: #cakesmashEpicFail.
"I've had heaps of children who cry during their sessions, either at the sight of the cake or because they don't like the feel of the cake on their hands and feet," says photographer Natalie Ahmet from Garden of Eden Photography.
Natalie photographs many cake smash shoots for her clients, her most recent being an incredible eight child cake smash for a group of mums. "Some of the babies loved it, others cried loudly, one of them got cake in her eye," she says. "In the end I was really pleased with the images I was able to capture, and so were the parents."
Natalie's advice to parents? "The key with children who don't like it is to give them time to adjust and have mum or dad sit there beside them and feed them some cake a little bit at a time. I'll often get the parents to smear some icing on their faces and break up the cake to give the illusion the child has smashed it," she says.
Oh, and: "Make sure you have an abundance of baby wipes or a bathtub nearby to clean up."
After chatting to Natalie I started to think that perhaps my experience with my godson wasn't so unique after all.
Another cake smash veteran, Emma Scott, from Aurora Joy Photography, recently planned a 12-child cake smash shoot for her mother's group to capture their first birthday milestone. "What's the worst thing that can happen?" she asked. "We can have 12 babies crying and that can still be a really cute photo."
Sharon, one of the mums in the 12-baby shoot, says "it was brilliant and great fun ... We had a ball and doing it with our first mums' group, a group of first time mums who rely on each other so heavily, was great. I don't know if the kids got a lot out of it – but they had a sugar high for a few hours."
After my experience with my godson I will never ever do a cake smash photo shoot again. There was a moment while photographing my godson that I considered trading in his birthday present for therapy sessions for the both of us, it was that terrible.
"It was completely a trend, but I think it has seen its day," says Beth Fernley from Beth Fernley Photography. Beth once offered cake smash shoots to her clients, but now has stopped. "The last three times I did a cake smash shoot the kids hated it, and with the last two I did not get a shot at all. Instead we cleaned them up and turned it into a portrait session."
Beth encourages parents to ditch the cake smash and choose a portrait session instead. "Bring a toy, a blanket, a book, something that is relevant to the child and do a natural portrait session, instead of putting a hat on a child and getting it to smash a cake. Imagine if your child didn't go anywhere without carrying this pink rabbit which was their older sisters toy – that to me is more important to capture, not having cake all over their face, makes much more sense."
I'm happy to put my experience down to a social media fail – the ones where you see the cake on Pinterest, yet the one you make at home is a complete disaster. Except this was a cake smash that was a complete disaster.