Cake Smash - Indoors - Assistance with Lighting


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Aug 2, 2011
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Hi Everyone,

Looking for some advice here with lighting. I'm shooting a cake smash for a friend next week. Their preference is to have the shoot done indoors with a white background. I've done some research (as I've tried a shoot like this before with my daughter - not exactly a huge success). I don't have enough equipment to light the background. Any suggestions here?

I'm shooting with a D7000, and my thought will be to use my 50mm 1.4. I have an SB-600, and was thinking to have that off camera triggered via CLS. My bigger concern is getting the backdrop bright. Should I shoot opposite a bright window?

This is by no means a paid professional shoot - more or less something fun as a gift for the parents. That said, I'm hoping to pull this off with a little more success than my last go at it.

Thanks for the help!
Sounds like you need some more equipment! ;)
If you have a nice, bright southern-exposure window, that would be worth trying; a couple of large pieces of foam-core/Coroplast/Posterboard will make good reflectors. Remember to get as much separation between the subject and the background as possible. What may work (and will definitely test the limits of CLS will be to use your pop-up flash as a key light, but use a white recipe-card underneath it to boune it off of the ceiling (assuming a bright/white and normal residentail ceiling height) and the place your SB600 so that it will catch the reflected flash and then trigger to light your background. This might take a little creativity to get positioning right, but it should give you reasonably decent results. Experiment with your flash compensation to fund out where you need to dial it it to get the best high-key look. It won't be perfect, but hopefully it makes Mom happy!
Remember to get as much separation between the subject and the background as possible.

I'm hoping that I'll have the room to do it, but I was going to aim for about 5 feet between subject and background... what do you think?

I like the idea of triggering the SB-600 to light the background - just worried that the pop-up will not be very flattering to the subject. Something to try ahead of time for sure.

The room I'm looking at has a Western exposure, but will be doing in the late afternoon, so will probably have decent light. Maybe rely on that (and a reflector), and use the flash to light the background then?

Appreciate the tips!
5' isn't optimal, but it's a lot more than the 1-2' many people use. As for your pop-up, that's why I suggested making the bounce-card out of a white recipe card. Bend/tape/angle it under your pop-up flash so that it reflects the light on to the ceiling, which will provide a nice, diffuse light. You will get some under-nose/chin shadowing with the light coming straight down, but if you have a reflector handy, you may be able to grab some window light and throw it on the face. You don't want direct pop-up flash hitting the subject, and remember to get down low; you should really be laying on your stomach when you shoot these.
Relying on ambient window light to make the background light is going to require just the right exposure; the right mix of ISO, f/stop, and shutter speed, and late in the day, you might not be able to get the needed light.

Daylight is weak, compared against speedlight flash at 5,6,7,to 15 feet. Keep that firmly in mind. Making the background light BRIGHTER requires having LESS light on the subject than is on the background. It's not the absolute value in foot-candles, but the relative value, the differential between background and foreground, that determines the brightness of the background. I think relying on daylight will mean you'll need to use high ISO value, like 500 or 640, at moderate f/stop like f/3.5, and slowish speed, like 1/40 second. And at that kind of base exposure, maybe only one-eighth flash power.

Make sure the flash on the subject is low-powered. Then, you at least have a chance at getting the background bright.

Unless you do this right, you'll have issues, so be prepared to make some changes at the shoot. If you REALLY want a bright backdrop, then light it with flash, and use a lot less flash power on the subject.
Thanks for the suggestions Derrel. To clarify, you think my best bet is to light the backdrop, and use a lower power on the pop-up flash to light the subject? I'm worried about the quality of window light, and would prefer to control as much as I can. I haven't mentioned yet - what distance/angle should I place the flash to light the background? I had thought maybe a 45 degree angle, a few feet away. Flash power suggestions?
I would actually suggest taping or tieing the flash right to the back of the highchair, and aimed straight back at the background. The best course of action would be to have a second flash. Angling a speedlight usually means fall-off, and often creates background texture due to sidelighting.

I saw the suggestion of using the pop-up flash above; I'm not 100% on-board with that. I re-read your post again. You have the experience of the first, unsuccessful shoot to draw upon. I just wanted to point out one way to try and get the background bright, by using the high ISO level of 500 or 640, and using a LOW-powered flash on the subject, and using a moderate f/3.5 aperture and slowish shutter speed to "pick up ambient" or as is sometimes called "dragging the shutter". It's sometimes difficult to read between the lines on forum posts.

A lot of people here on TPF go ape when anybody suggests using flash on-camera. I think this situation calls for two, good flash units, one at relatively high power firing directly straight AT at the background, the other 4x lower in output on the kid, roughly, to ensure a WHITE background. I think relying on ambient light is sketchy, bnut I did give a rough guideline on what I expoect would be needed to try and use ambient. But honestly, I think using ambient light and dragging the shutter is going to be VERY tricky unless you're fully conversant in exactly how to do it...

On the opposite end, you could also use the SB-600 at 1/200 second, low ISO, and f/8, and have a DARK, clean background...
Thanks again - I really appreciate the advice. So many variables here. Would much rather go the dark background look. Going to see about beg/steal/borrowing another flash for the shoot. Really want to nail that background. Worst case, I'll assess the natural light situation, and if no other alternative, may leverage some of the tips you gave regarding the higher iso/moderate aperture combo.
Whats a cake smash? Is it literally someone smashing a cake? Is this like a know thing to do over your side of the pond?
I could be wrong but my prediction is that you'll drive yourself crazy trying to get that background right with window light, and probably at the expense of your overall results.

If I had what you have, I'd put the flash on the camera, bounce it off the ceiling, not stress too much about the background (aside from keeping it clean), and concentrate on capturing good moments.

If you can get a second speedlight, your possibilities for the background expand, of course. Play with gels, snoots, zoom, etc. to achieve some cool effects.
Whats a cake smash? Is it literally someone smashing a cake? Is this like a know thing to do over your side of the pond?
Yes! It's a practice that should be outlawed! An infant is given carte blanche to abuse and destroy innoncent confectionary for the amusement of his/her parents and other onlookers.

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