Incredulous Tip # 19: DIY baby portraits are super easy with a little patience, a can of pepper spray, and plenty of shit-clicks.

If you’re like me, you have moments (or entire blocks of time late at night) when you scour Pinterest for various DIY money-saving solutions that a) make you feel in control of your world, b) inspire you to become the type of person who does DIY projects, and c) ultimately end up making your life harder.

I love baby photography. When I say that, I mean I love to look at it. Not do it. But the type of baby photography I like comes at a price – usually a high one that involves paying extra for proofs or a CD with reproduction rights. I really didn’t have $100 to $200 to drop on pictures. I woke up one morning with the magnificent idea that I would not have to pay this high price because…

Heck. I can do it myself! How hard can it be?

I found some tips and ideas online. I also had my own “must-have” shot ideas that I couldn’t wait to try. From what I’d read, taking your own baby pics required little more than patience, confetti, and a can-do attitute. Add a few props and snap away. Easy as pie!

(I’ve never understood the phrase, “easy as pie.” Just ask Nick about the one and only time I tried to bake a pie from scratch. Pies shouldn’t be al dente.)

Anyways, I had B-Bear’s actual birthday off, so I had planned to take most of the photos that day and the rest on the weekend. There were several shots I wanted to capture, and I’m proud to say that I did get them all…technically. As for the amazing professional portraits I’d pictured in my head?…Well, not exactly. But I’m very proud, and mildly smug, about what I did accomplish, just me (Nick too…but that part comes in later) and my little ol’, no-frills Canon digital camera.

Must-have shot #1: Typing on Grandma Ginni’s antique typewriter.

My late grandma gave me this antique typewriter that weighs probably 30 lbs. I love it. I’m not sure why she gave it to me – I like to think it’s because, deep down, she knew I could be a writer some day. In reality, I think she just wanted it out of her house. Nonetheless, it’s a beloved piece I display in my home, and I wanted it in the shot. My idea was to run a piece of paper through the old gal (the typewriter, not Grandma) that said, “Happy Birthday to Me…” Cute, right?

I won’t disclose how many clicks it took to get just one or two shots. I just sat the boy down on the floor next to my props and started clicking the shit out of my camera (henceforth known as “shit-clicking”). I also made sure there was plenty of natural light coming in from the side door (a tip I’d read online). 

Click…..[pause]…..Click….[pause]…..

My camera has what seems like a gazillion-minute delay between every snap. Murphy’s law: The cute, adorable, glowing smiles and moments occur during the pause, just before you release unbecoming mommy-curses at the camera, then you click again only to get a nice, blurry photo where your baby looks stoned with one eye half closed. Sooo, the shit-clicking method is the best way to go if you have a camera like mine that is not fancy and doesn’t rapid-fire.

Here are my fav shots from this little “session.” Unfortunately, you can’t really read my cute birthday message as clearly as I’d hoped, but it’s peeking out there. By the way, I use Picmonkey to edit all of my photos. I’ll touch on that later…

Must-have shot #2: Hands and feet.

It is no secret that I have a small obsession with baby feet. I’ve mentioned this many times. I had to capture his little bon-bons-with-toes. I was hoping for some dimply thigh action too – it’s only so long, after all, that babies have those squishy cheeseburger thighs. 

Here is what I discovered: Babies do not hold the #@%& still. After 50 or so shit-clicks, I only go two clear shots, and they didn’t turn out that great. But at least I have feet and thighs documented at age one. In the future, I’ll try duck tape to bind his body to a flat surface and super-glue his legs still. (Kidding! Jeesh!)

Must-have shot #3: Momma’s homemade “1”-sie.

When you are the daughter of a woman who can crochet a tablecloth in an afternoon, hand-stitch a Christmas quilt during Monday Night Football, bake things with the term “souffle” in the title, and grow Garden-of-Eden-style flora, you quickly realize it’s much easier to just keep your cozy, cool spot in the shadows and let her enjoy the spotlight.

That is precisely why I elected to cut a big number “1” from super-clearanced, green fabric, and iron it on with something called Witch Stichery…or is it Stitch Witchery?…anyways, it’s for hemming pants, not ironing things onto other things, but I digress. Add a little fabric glue, some puff-paint, iron-on rick-rack (or whatever that squiggly stuff is called) and Voila! You have a hand-made-from-the-heart birthday onesie to commemorate the big 0-1. Just be careful putting it on, letting your child walk or otherwise move in it, and taking it off. Durability is not the strong suit of my style of crafting. BUT…I got a big cheesy smile from Bubbalooshki, plus we had a blast together in the park taking these pics.

Must-have shot # 4: The Ultimate Birthday Balloons.

Picture this…a stunning shot of a little one giggling as he frolics through a sea of bright, colorful, birthday balloons…

I had so many hopes for this idea, you guys. I had spent all day taking the aforementioned shots between whiny-hungry-nap-times to ensure cooperation from my subject. I was tired, hungry, and dehydrated. I hadn’t peed all day. For my ultimate shot, I needed an assistant. That assistant was Nick (my hubs). 

It was getting dangerously close to night-night ritual time for Bubbalooshki when Nick finally got home from work. I had all the balloons blown up and they were carefully stuffed into a garbage bag and cinched up for travel. I had a colorful quilt for the frolicking, not to mention “the balloon shoot outfit” on B-Bear. We were ready when Daddy got home.

“I know the perfect place! Let’s go to that little wooded area over by the River Trail we used to go to! I bet the sun setting over that is perfect and there’s lots of tall grassy areas.”

“Ok.” My assistant was on board. 

Note: We used to walk over to this little patch of enchanted forest all the time before we had a baby. It had been about a year since we’d been over there.

“Let’s just walk over. It’s not that far.” I said, swinging my balloon bag proudly. 

About two blocks away:

Me: “Ugh. I have to peeee-ah. [sigh] I don’t remember it being so far away-ah.” 

Nick: “I know. I feel like we’ve been walking for an hour.”

Me: “I’m hungry. My feet hurt.”

Nick: “Why did you wear flip-flops?”

Me: “I don’t knooow-ah.”

Approximately 20 hours later, we arrived at our destination, sweating, hungry, and having to pee. Also, Bubbalooshki had started to whine a bit on the way over in the buggy. As we approached the entrance to our little wooded area, I was crushed to see that the city, or whoever, had let it all get overgrown. The path was almost gone – it felt like a scary place rather than the enchanted one I remember. We had just walked all the effing way over there for nothing.

I was undeterred. 

“Maybe if we can just get through this (really scary) part, it’s still nice up at the top of the hill.” I said, hopefully.

Nick, well aware that I don’t give up easily, if ever, went ahead while I waited with B-bear, swatting at hordes of mosquitos that likely carried West Nile or malaria. When Nick didn’t come back for a few minutes, I feared the worst: meth-heads.

Just as I was getting immersed in horrible, worst-case scenarios, he came back through the brush.

“Yeah. It’s not good up there. It’s all grown up, and there’s like propane tanks and a bunch of pans and stuff up there. It was weird. Let’s get out of here.”

Damn you, meth-heads! You ruin everything!

We made our way toward the neighboring baseball field behind the middle school. As we walked, the sun began to sink, and a group of whipper-snapper punks were coming toward us. Nick commented on the likeliness that the “set-up” belonged to them, and sure enough, they all disappeared into the wooded area toward the meth encampment. I just pretended to be really involved with my ballon bag so they wouldn’t accost us.

“Let’s just find a spot and get this done.” 

If you know how my mind works, you know that I was anticipating the worst-of-the-worst to happen, and all I could think about was how we’d probably all be murdered out there just because I wanted a picture of my son with a bunch of fucking balloons.

We hustled around. Nick pointed out (as he usually does) that I was overreacting. We set the little man down on the blanket and realized his hair was sticking up like a proud peacock’s tail. We’d brought a can of hairspray in anticipation of his unruly fuzz…

“Here, I’ll hold him while you spray,” Nick said.

“Ok.”

TSSCHHHH TSSSCHHHHHH.

“Ouch! My eye! You sprayed it in my eye!” Nick spat.

I turned just in time to yell, “SHIT! The balloons!!” As all of my balloons lightly bounced toward the chain-link fence in the breeze that had picked up. 

POP!…….POP!

“Damn it! My balloons are all popping!” I cried. “Hurry! Just sit him on the blanket!”

I hastily collected what was left of my balloon collection and tossed them onto the blanket while I instructed Nick to…

“Get his attention!….NO, like, over HERE!…NO, NO, NO…he needs to look THIS way!”

“Ugh. Chris! Here…let ME do it. You’re not doing it right!”

…..[pause for elevator music]…..

Once the “session” was over, Nick walked ahead carrying our baby, who was at the end of his rope and refused to get back into the buggy. I pushed the buggy dejectedly through the grass behind them, and we made the trek all the way back home.

But, between all of our shit-clicking (I had the camera, Nick had his phone), we somehow managed to get ONE picture with the balloons AND a smile. Go figure. It’s not miraculous, but hey…I’ll take it.

Here are a couple I just had fun with trying different effects on Picmonkey.**

So there you have it, folks. Whatever “it” is. The story, I guess. 

Was it easy? Hell no. 

Was it worth the money I saved? Hmmm. Probably.

Was it worth the hassle? Perhaps not.

Did I do a professional-grade job? Um. NO.

Would I do it again? … … Yeah. Yeah, I probably would.

Even though it was time consuming, frustrating, and potentially fatal, we’ll have the memories of that day for a lifetime. I’ll think of our little photo shoot together each time I see one of the pictures. And I don’t think they’re half-bad, if I may say so myself. 

If you’re thinking about becoming a DIY photography warrior too, here are some tips:

  1. Don’t push it. I probably would have gotten way better balloon pics if I’d just waited until the next morning when little B-Bear was rested and ready to go again. I was too stubborn visionary to wait, but I should have.
  2. Shit-click. Just keep clicking that camera in the general direction of your baby over and over and don’t ask questions. Pray a little. When you plug your camera into your computer to view them, I promise, you’ll have at least one good shot that will make you proud. For a second, you’ll seriously consider whether you should drop a few thou on a state-of-the-art camera, quit your job, and become a full-time baby photographer.
  3. **Picmonkey is your best friend. Hell, it’s your lover. Picmonkey is a fabulous website where you can EASILY edit your own photos with lots of cool features, filters, and effects. You can use some of the effects for free. I opted to purchase a yearly membership, which was only about $30.00. Best. Money. Ever. Spent. Ever. And it beats paying hundreds for Photoshop, which I wouldn’t have the skills to use properly anyways. Warning: you’ll spend hours on Picmonkey. You’ll look at your watch and it will be 3 a.m., and you’ll still be editing the same photo you started with. It’s that cool, in my humble, amateur opinion. You can add text, overlays, ok…I’m done. Check it out yourself.
  4. Enjoy yourself. Remembering to eat helps. Also remember to feed and water your child. It is super easy to get so wrapped up in the fun that you forget to actually have fun. 
  5. Have an assistant. They should wear protective goggles. Seriously though…a helper is nice.
  6. Safety first. Avoid overgrown forests with lurking adolescents and mosquito swarms. Have a phone with you. Maybe some pepper spray.
  7. I learned the hard way one time that you actually want to avoid blinding, pulsating sunlight. I took most of the photos in the morning and evening light. That way, you can avoid those pesky, squinty eyes (even though they’re totally cute anyways on a baby.)
  8. Also learned the hard way, save your favorite pics, along with the edited ones, in some type of organized manner on your computer. I have JPEGs floating all over my desktop, their edited counterparts tucked away in various “Picture” or “Document” files on my computer. Finding them later was a crap-shoot. And irritating.
  9. Spend a few extra bucks and get them printed somewhere other than a supermarket kiosk. You’ve poured your sweat and tears into your photos, after all, not to mention your lips got really chapped by the end of all of it. We ordered some 11×14 posters and smaller prints for family on Shutterfly for about $25 total. They came out great, and we got a nice frame for one of the larger prints at Target. Photo kiosks are great for printing photos to take to work, Christmas cards, and B-day invites. Not so much for getting every drop of faux-professionalism from your pics.
  10. There is no number 10. I think 9 tips just about covers it.

So, to all of you professional baby photographers out there…I salute you. I bow down to you. I kiss your cheeks European-style, and I curtsy. The morning I woke up and thought, “Heck, I can do it myself!” followed by my brief career reconsideration, came around full circle to a place where I now sit and wonder if there is something wrong with you. It was fun. But I can’t imagine doing it for a living, and now I totally get why it costs a shiny nickel to get professional shots taken. You pros deserve it. Darn shootin’.

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