You know the photo you want: your sweet two-turning-three year old blowing out the candles.  Or maybe it’s your one year old face-deep in cake for the first time. But how do you take a great photo of that, one you put in a baby book or even a frame, while hosting a house full of people and kids, at 6pm and after you’ve had a couple glasses of wine? Short answer: you don’t. But if that’s the photo you really want, I can help you get it another way. Birthdays are one of the easiest milestones to photograph and with a little planning and some extra cake you can get a gorgeous photo that you’ll look back on for years to come. Here are the 3 easy steps to get there.

1) Cupcakes for breakfast. In our house, my daughter’s birthday celebration is a week-long affair.  And one of her favorite traditions is the morning we have cupcakes for breakfast. I like that she thinks I’m a fun mom who lets her get sugar-charged before preschool drop-off. The side benefit is that it’s an easy way to get a pretty birthday picture: we stage it. with cupcakes. for breakfast. This way I can choose the light, where we’re set up, and what’s in the background. The timing is relaxed and I’m not distracted because I’m also hosting a party. We put on party hats, sing, light a candle. And in 15 minutes I get a few great photos of her celebration which also means that on the day of her party, I can be fully present with her and NOT behind my camera trying to document the moment. And I also like cupcakes for breakfast.

2) Lighting and location. Whether you’re inside or out, pay attention to what’s in the background. Inside, find a neutral colored wall (white or light colored is ideal) and push aside any clutter in the camera’s view. Window light is soft and lovely, so aim to set up near a large one with your child facing the window. Place yourself between your child and the window to take the photos. This will give you even light across their face and, hopefully, prevent under exposure if you’re using an automatic setting on your camera.

3) Watch them grow. Consider adding a prop – a party hat, banner, or even siblings in a picture or two – that you can repeat year after year in a similar set-up. I have a banner that I change my daughter’s age on each year and I love watching her grow as something in the background stays the same. And it’s okay to start this now, even if your kid is turning 10. There are LOTS of birthdays ahead.

4) BONUS TIP! Keep it fun. This goes without saying and should be easy given you’re offering up extra cake, but what makes these photos (and any) the most successful is when you and your kids are having real fun. Yes, you are staging a birthday photo. But you’re also spending some time with just your child – no distractions of in-laws, and neighbors and drinks to re-fill – celebrating another trip (or the first one) around the sun together. Smile, laugh and be silly because this parenting thing is a lot of work. And you deserve cake for breakfast.