Tuesday Tutorials : Tracey Clark : Photographing Birthdays

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This week Tuesday Tutorials welcomes Tracey Clark.


Birthday documentation is a classic scrapbook theme. As I move towards a simpler approach with increased emphasis on words + photos, I am most interested in ideas that help me focus on documenting & celebrating the events of our lives through the lens of my camera. I love the idea of photo-centric invitations and thank you's - I will definitely be adding that to my idea file for birthdays early next year. Download a PDF of this post here.

The ideas Tracey presents below are wonderful to keep in mind whether you are celebrating a special day for a child or an adult. And really, couldn't we all use a little more child-like celebration in our lives.

Here's Tracey:

Birthdays around our house are a big deal.

My daughters start thinking about their plans for celebration almost a year in advance; musing on ideas and options and dreaming of party possibilities. The day only comes once a year but the preparation and celebration of a birthday can stretch out for much longer than a mere 24 fleeting hours. And why not?

Ever since my daughters were old enough to participate in the preparation process, I got them involved in planning for the big day. They are delighted to get into every detail from making invitations to cake baking to decorating in anticipation of turning yet another year older. Being a photographer, I use all the moments leading up to the party as photo ops. This helps not only guarantee marking the occasion with great portraits, but also to tell a well-rounded and unique birthday story each passing year.

Five invite

Picture the Invitation
I try to capture a quintessential portrait of my kids about a month before their actual birthday so I can create their invitation around it. Now that I have 2 children, sending a photo invitation is the only time during the year that friends and family get to enjoy a solo portrait of them since our holiday cards are almost always group shots. On years when we’ve only invited a small group, I have even sent family members birthday announcements just for a good excuse to offer up a recent photo.

When making the actual invite, I always incorporate the number of their soon-coming new age. There are a million ways to translate the numbers. I challenge myself to get creative and have fun with it. Using a photo invite can also take the stress out of trying to decide on a theme for the party in advance. Since the invite is a photo, any theme can match it. Or, if you have the theme decided on, you can incorporate the colors or other elements in the picture or the actual invite.

Establish a Tradition
Traditions
have got to start somewhere. Why not begin with some birthday-centric
traditions? I painted a banner on a long strip of butcher paper to hang
at my daughter’s first birthday 11-years-ago.  We hung it behind her
high-chair as a festive visual element as she enjoyed (or not) her
first piece of birthday cake. I was so pleased with the images that
year that we have used that same banner every year since. We just
change the number 1 with the appropriate number for that year and are
sure to get a shot with her under the banner each birthday. She never
forgets to remind us to get the birthday banner out in time for her
party. And my second daughter has her own banner as well, of course.

2nd birthday decorating

Take the Cake
In the 11 years we have celebrated kid’s birthdays around here, we have never once bought a birthday cake. Oddly enough, I don’t even like cooking and only bake a handful of times during the year. Perhaps that’s why our birthday cake baking occasions are so special and memorable for my kids. We put almost as much time, effort and thought into our cakes as we do our parties. I always keep it simple and easy (I love boxed cake mixes) and still the process engages my girls in yet another one of our annual traditions. Some of the cake baking and decorating photo sequences remain my all time favorites from birthdays past.

The Main Event
Planning parties takes a lot of work, and even our best laid plans to enjoy the parties we plan can back fire. I can remember more than one birthday party when I barely had a minute to pick up my camera, let alone capture any pictures quite the way I had envisioned. When this happens—and it’s bound to once in a while—knowing that you already created some birthday themed pictures before the party will help you enjoy the moment more than focus on how it’s slipping away without the proper photo documentation.

I have found however than pre-planning how the photo-ops for the party will help ensure you get the quintessential party shots. No matter where the party will be held or what the festivities might include, I try map out a game plan early as to have questions answered on a dime like, where should we cut the cake? Or where should she open her presents? And of course, my plan always ALWAYS works around where the best light and backdrop is—in that order. Lighting is always my biggest priority. I learned after a few not-so-optimum parties early on to always have a chair ready for them to blow out their candles and eat their cake in a location with the best photo conditions possible. At least then, there would be one guaranteed picture perfect celebratory moment.

Bday crown 06_2009

Decorating the Guest of Honor
I have shot a lot of weddings throughout my career on one thing I can tell you, brides always look radiant and their bridal veils are a big part of that magic. It’s what sets them apart from their rest of the crowd and it makes them look more special on that day than any other. I feel the same way about birthdays. The best way to capture the guest of honor in all their birthday glory it put a hat, tiara or crown on them. I cannot tell you how much fun it is to use these kinds of props to make your birthday shots stand out from other shots you capture of your child throughout the year. Even if you stage it before or after the party, it’s the hat shots that to me are the birthday classics.

Thank you bday copy

Say Thank You
So the party came and went and was a huge success. Chances are now you’ve got a million great party pictures to share. I always pick a favorite for my Thank You cards. When my girls were young I used the cake-eating shots. But now that they are older and invite their closest friends, I try to capture a fun group shot and use one of those for the Thank Yous to send to friends. It’s a picture perfect way to wrap up yet another birthday gone by - just in time to get started planning next years celebration.

Dottedline

Tclarkcolorbio500X With a passion for capturing the beauty of everyday life in pictures and an unbridled enthusiasm for sharing her musings with the masses, Tracey Clark keeps herself in constant creative motion. She’s found a way to blend her love for photography and writing with the precarious art of raising both a spirited Kindergartner and a tireless tween, creating what she considers the perfect alchemy.

Tracey has fifteen years of professional photography under her belt, is the author of two published Motherhood Journals (Chronicle Books, San Francisco) and writes a mom blog called Mother May I.  Her latest creative offering Shutter Sisters (launched in Jan 2008) is a collaborative and unique photo blog that is being touted as the premier source of creative inspiration for all women with a passion for photography. Amidst all of her many endeavors, Tracey claims she is merely scratching the surface.

44 thoughts

  1. Ali Edwards

    2009-07-28 05:15:18 -0400

    Hi Ann-Marie - my guess is that she used the "opacity" slider in Photoshop. Full color would be 100% and if you slide it back you will see more of the image behind it. Look for it at the top of the layers palette.

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  2. MammaLoves

    2009-07-28 05:33:23 -0400

    What a great resource this post is. Thanks for sharing. I too am bookmarking it right now.

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  3. Shannon H

    2009-07-28 06:42:22 -0400

    Love this post. I'm bookmarking it as well. What is the font you used for "thank you for everything"? I love it!

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  4. Chris

    2009-07-28 06:55:12 -0400

    I love the idea of making photos the focus of the invitations and thank you cards. Thanks for the great tips!

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  5. procrastination mama

    2009-07-28 07:01:43 -0400

    Thanks for this. It's a great post and really helpful too. The pictures are really inspiring and i am definitely going to make some thank you notes like this. How did she get that pink writing on top of her photo???
    I'm sure its something simple but i'm not quite digitalised yet on my mac!
    Tracey;)

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  6. Jill W

    2009-07-28 07:07:18 -0400

    Thanks for the tips. I recently found a photo of my Holly Hobbie birthday cake and my daughter was so excited to see it! I wish I had a photo of my Cinderella cake with the solid sugar Cinderella figure on it!

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  7. jakki

    2009-07-28 07:16:38 -0400

    It was nice to 'meet' Tracey! I love Shutter Sisters...

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  8. Nicky from Canada

    2009-07-28 07:46:22 -0400

    Thanks Ali - will check this out - as I had the same question as Ann-Marie had.

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  9. Sarah-Ji

    2009-07-28 08:40:50 -0400

    I've taken a 4-year hiatus from throwing birthday parties, but Cadence turns five the end of September, so these ideas are quite timely. I may actually have enough time to pull it off. Thanks, Tracey!

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  10. Heather

    2009-07-28 09:50:58 -0400

    Thank you for sharing these awesome ideas!
    My son is only 4 months - I can't wait to put these great ideas to use in the coming years.

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  11. Linda

    2009-07-28 10:43:36 -0400

    That was good, thanks.

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  12. Helen Tilbury

    2009-07-28 13:29:26 -0400

    Some great revelations here...I have just bought my son a "court jester" hat to wear to the South Africa/All Blacks rugby match this weekend (lots of people wear funny hats...) & have jut decided that that will be the "birthday" hat for the boys...& I want to buy a tiara for the girls..great idea & now we have a new family tradition!

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  13. Jeanne

    2009-07-28 14:04:04 -0400

    These are such personal and beautiful ideas!!!

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  14. Juli Fish

    2009-07-28 14:31:01 -0400

    We are about to hit birthday season around here and this post was so informative and had such awesome ideas. Thank you!!!!

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  15. jukebox

    2009-07-28 14:53:46 -0400

    Love your Tuesday Tutorials! Your guests have the best ideas. Really enjoyes Tracey's photography. My blog list is getting sooo long from blog hopping from your site!

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  16. Kimberly

    2009-07-28 22:02:25 -0400

    I have to agree with Jukebox. I enjoy *your* site so much, Ali, but I'm also thankful for your presenting us with so many other talented artists and creators to follow!
    Love these birthday photos and ideas as well. No kids of my own to document, but still love them.

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  17. latz

    2009-07-29 01:30:22 -0400

    Perfect timing! I have one turning 5 at the end of August and I WILL be using the photo invite idea!

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  18. Malea

    2009-07-29 02:55:35 -0400

    Such a timely tutorial! I have recently begun thinking about what to do for my daughter's first birthday... this gives me a lot of ideas of things that I need to be thinking of beforehand!! Thanks!

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  19. Nichole

    2009-07-29 05:41:44 -0400

    Cool tutorial - definitely saving this for the future.
    One thing I've started doing for my daughter's parties: I try to get one really good photo of each of the birthday guests. I use those for the thank-you cards. Parents seem to really appreciate them, and often ask for emailed copies. One parent even used that for her Christmas card that year!

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  20. Karen

    2009-07-29 09:29:13 -0400

    Love the tutorial --great for all ages and birthday milestones!!! Love the photos for thank yous-- kids love having a photo with the birthday boy. We just celebrated my son's 10th birthday so we had a "decade 10" cake. I used a photo from each year of his life and placed each one on the cake with each candle. It gave us a trip down memory lane to enjoy.

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  21. Malin

    2009-07-29 11:45:00 -0400

    Thanks!
    These ideas are wonderful!
    ...can I share with you the invitations I made for my son's 5th birthday a few weeks ago...? The site is in Swedish, but the pics are universal. ;)
    http://scrapsnack.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/inbjudningskort/

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  22. Delilah

    2009-07-30 16:03:19 -0400

    LOVE it! Great post and great ideas!

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  23. bklyn76

    2009-07-30 16:48:25 -0400

    this post made me so nostalgic for my own childhood bdays! and so excited to plan for my son's 1st! bookmarking! :)

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  24. Scrapbook Theme

    2009-08-03 12:33:38 -0400

    Tracey thank you for your creativity. Not only are you able to capture moments with great photography but you are able to craft words. Keep it up! Thanks Teresa

    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
  25. Online Pharmacy

    2009-09-23 00:07:30 -0400

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    * edited 08/11/14 08:35AM
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