When I was contacted about a Halloween theme Epic Cake Smash session, I was just about as excited as I could be. I absolutely love Halloween decorations. I couldn't wait to get started!
I sat down with Isabella's parents for our pre-session consultation to talk about their ideas for the theme. Her mom, Jessy, explained that she was totally obsessed with Halloween. Their wedding was even a Nightmare Before Christmas theme! She wanted to include elements of the movie in the session, but didn't want the whole thing to be based on it. I was through the roof with glee! I absolutely love Tim Burton! I was overflowing with ideas even before the consultation was over. The hard part was keeping the set true to the themes without being too scary.
After a lot of thought and discarded ideas, I decided to take my inspiration from Jack Skellington's pumpkin patch. I purchased a whole bunch of styrofoam and paper mache pumpkins. I painted them all a little differently and added some curly paper covered wire for the pumpkin vines. The stacked pumpkins are solid styrofoam held together by toothpicks. I carved out the letters and painted them. The jack-o-lanterns were already carved and I added battery powered string lights to the inside for the glow. I scattered a few real mini pumpkins and some fabric autumn leaves.
The backdrop was a night sky that I already had from another session. I cut the "hill" out of black foam board. Jack and Sally (to symbolize Isabella's parents) were cut out of black card stock and the moon was yellow paper. I added the Halloween tree for some height and taped some paper bats to the backdrop.
The "I" for Isabella was a 3D paper letter that I painted to resemble Jack Skellington's pin stripe suit. I wanted something that would be unique to only Isabella's session and gave it to her after we were done.
The jack-o-lantern cake with fondant patchwork base was by Melanie of Peace Love & Cake (as always).
When Isabella arrived for her session, she didn't seem too excited about being there. Mom got her dressed in the Jack Skellington cloth diaper, striped headband and black and orange necklace she brought. We brought her into the shooting room and I tried to let her explore the set to get comfortable. She didn't want anything to do with it! We finally convinced her to sit down but there were quite a few tears involved.
Isabella seemed calmer outside, but the wind kept knocking the styrofoam pumpkins over and by the time we had given up on them, she was already done with us. At one point she kicked the cake and it came rolling toward me! That was about when I realized that it was time to call it quits. Some times, no matter how hard you try, a session just doesn't go well. I offered to schedule a re-shoot on a different day when maybe Isabella would be feeling happier.
The day of the re-shoot, I rearranged the sitting room and carefully dragged the set in there...I thought maybe she just doesn't like the shooting room because it's too dark. I removed the styrofoam jack-o-lanterns...I thought maybe they were too scary. The cake couldn't be saved but I kept the base so I suggested that they pick up some cupcakes...maybe Isabella would recognize what they were and be more interested. Jessy brought Isabella's older siblings along, thinking they would help her feel comfortable and could get her attention and make her laugh.
Nope. Nope, nope...aaaaand nope. She did eat the cupcakes, but she cried the whole time. Nothing was working again! I was starting to feel like a horrible person. I thought maybe I was stressing her out so I stopped talking to her. I even tried to hide behind the light so Isabella couldn't see me. At one point I had Jessy sit in front of me and I shot over her shoulder!
Isabella's older brother started to get upset that she was crying and that made him cry, too. So we had two crying kids and frosting everywhere. I think her mom started to lose all hope. She took Isabella's siblings outside while Dad and I tried to just play with her for a bit. We took off her necklace and let her play with it and removed the headband, all in hopes that we'd finally figure out what had her so out of sorts. I had her sit on Dad's lap for a few shots and he managed to get the only smiles of the day.
Originally, we had added a bubble bath to the end of the session. We decided to still try it. Isabella loves bath time at home, and at the very least, we could clean her up. So I got some nice warm water and some bubbles and set up the bath in the shooting room.
Nope. She wanted nothing to do with the bath either! So we cleaned her up, got the frosting off, and wrapped her up in a towel.
Isabella's parents were flabbergasted. She is such a happy baby normally, loves cake and bath time and always laughs at her brother and sister. I had tried every trick in the book, and even made up a few more, but I just couldn't figure out what was bothering her so much. I felt awful. My only guess is that she was afraid of the camera itself.
I don't think Isabella's parents were expecting much when they came for the Purchasing Appointment (which Isabella was fine for the whole time...ha). I made them a slide show with one of the songs from Nightmare Before Christmas. They were very pleasantly surprised! I wish I could have given them beautiful images of a happy baby smashing cake...instead I gave them beautiful images of a miserable baby eating a cupcake...and a great story to tell her when she gets older!
Cassandra Zingaro - photographer, mom, wife, owner of HeartStrings Photography and first time blogger