A few weeks ago I was at the first birthday party for my niece’s little boy, Bennett. The crowd was a little larger than I expected, but this was also the first gathering I’d been to in a year. Any gathering felt like a big deal.

I saw some important details unfolding and I had a camera and a couple of lenses. This had potential to be a nice gift for the family.

Find the VIPs

This was a full family gathering complete with cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and great grandparents. While it’s obvious that you want photos of the little one smooching cake, it’s probably going to be a while before all of these people are together again.

Somebody is going to really want that photo of the great grandparents. I decided to find the VIPs and treat this like an event. Also consider that aside from the one-year-old, nobody looks good chewing. Wait for folks to put down their food for a minute before making that picture. Unless it’s really funny. 

It’s a party

Events are a balance of being the life of the party and being invisible. There’s a time for sniping snapshots with a telephoto. There’s also a time to coax people together for a group snapshot. It’s a party so be part of it.

Go light

A kit lens may be plenty. For this one I had my 24-105mm and a “Nifty Fifty.” Be more aware of your surroundings and improvise with the gear that’s ready to go.

Spot meter on a midtone in the typical light and adjust appropriately. This event was under an awning which provided a nice even light. Go light because you probably won’t have time to switch lenses around anyway.  

The cake smash

One thing that you’ve just got to do as a one-year-old child is smash cake. I’m not sure exactly how all kids know this but they do. 

I made the rounds. I got the groups. I got the candids with the great grandparents. Now the little guy is in his chair and the cake is being marched to its doom — I mean to its eternal cake smash glory.

Spot meter for your subject, choose a shutter speed that’s quick, get in front of the little guy and be ready. Be patient and kind when that well-meaning smartphone gets in the frame.

I like a shutter speed that’s quick, but leaves a little blur. Bennett was smashing and flinging cake around while dunking his face into frosting. This was a fantastic mess of pure joy.

Things move fast at this point, so burst mode is your friend. If your camera has good eye detection then rely on it. Otherwise set a focus point between the corner of your subject’s eye and the bridge of his nose. Be patient. Shoot a lot of frames. Relax and be part of the fun!