Our baby girl Veya quietly turned one this week—a good reason to share her first birthday photoshoot in Poconos. 10 hours of trash-the-dress in a waterfall, sunrise in forest, home studio, green screen magic, fantasy art, before-and-after demo, behind-the-scenes video, and recent personal photos.
Let me get one thing out of my chest—these photos are not quite from Veya’s first birthday photoshoot. This photo session was supposed to be a precursor to her first birthday photoshoot in Poconos several weeks ago so I could publish both. I haven’t gotten to the second part so here we are with a shoot from July when she was eight months. On the other hand, most of the first birthday photoshoots in my newborn/children portfolio were taken for the time of the celebration, meaning around 10th month, so I’m not terribly off.
With toddlers, sessions predictably tend to be on a short side. Parents usually think of a few good shots and are ok revolving around a single theme, two at most. Anecdotally, they don’t want to tire their baby. Thinking of all past all-day photo project, I cannot recall any first birthday photoshoot among them and can only remember one newborn photoshoot, rather extraordinary at that. However, having parents as professional photographers puts things into a different perspective. We have a child, we have full day, we have a magical location, and we have ideas.
We took this all-day approach for Veya as newborn, and decided to do it again for her first birthday photoshoot. Hear me out: it is so much less stressful and more resourceful! “My child will not handle more than two hours” is simply irrelevant. We worked around our toddler’s schedule entire day to keep her well rested: she would wake up, eat, work the set, rest, repeat. Unrushed feedings, clothes changes, lighting setup variations, playing along, and driving around Poconos were all possible for ten hours, 06:00 AM to 4:00 PM.
In my books, no first birthday photoshoot in Poconos should be done without a touch of nature. Yes, we moved here from NYC recently and cannot get enough of it yet but really… After seeing how epic the results turned out for my cold Game of Thrones-inspired engagement shoot at the Raymondskill Falls, I owed it to Lara to depict her benign soul there with our little sprout. I suggested that we use her Papilio wedding dress from our 2015 elopement wedding in Moldova, giving this little photo adventure a revered status of trash-the-dress photoshoot.
The start was taxing. I wanted to achieve three things: a) be lucky to catch a morning fog like we did for her maternity on our lake; b) avoid tourists or hikers, and c) avoid park rangers who might object to her stepping into the water. A wee-hour session was in order with getting up at 4:15 AM. July in Poconos isn’t hot, that early hour might be called chilly by some, and then comes a mountain river cascading down the tallest waterfall in Pennsylvania, just a few feet shorter than Niagara.
The water was cold but Lara supported my vision: I wanted to correlate the water flow with that of her dress. To stress the similarity, I pushed for a longer shutter speed… This technique demands stillness. Most of the shots turned unusable as a toddler is hardly compatible with 0.4 sec of motionless.
Shutter speed special effect was half the problem—the bigger one was the water roar. Veya wasn’t ready for it and started crying 5 minutes into entering the water. The first photo below was taken in the 3rd minute; then she wouldn’t calm down until we left the waterfall 25 minutes later. The second photo is the last shot in the series. As soon as I nailed it we wrapped up. The photo was more or less usable but I had to overlay the blurry baby’s feet from another exposure. Note that the fog also lifted between these shots. Without knowing this backstory, the images look monumental to me.
The photo on the right was printed on wood and is now hanging in our living room next to a spot reserved for a torch, alongside with our “free spirit” portrait in Badlands during our ZORPHOTOUR RV trip around the US last year.
It took Veya time to stop weeping as Lara kept comforting her soaked in the warm sunrise rays in the woods away from the noise. Gentle moments were naturally and fittingly in place to illustrate a first birthday photoshoot in Poconos.
We drove home, ate, recovered, then changed for the next segment right on our lake. It was only 9:30 AM and the warm morning freshness baked our sweet little donut.
Then she sneezed, felt a bit ashamed, but laughed it off.
I added the summery mom into the recipe. Then I thought what would a first birthday photoshoot in Poconos be without a family portrait by a lake, and jumped into the frame, too. This entire natural look portion took under 20 minutes because we had a more robust in-studio concept planned next.
It was time for a good break and sleep for Veya. Four hours later we brought her down to my home studio which I am itching to reveal to you but still cannot while it’s unfinished. Been slowly working on it for a year and it’s about 80% completed.
I had two ideas in mind for my studio photo shoot: a clean and basic pinky theme and something more elaborate to add to my budding fantasy art collection. We started with the latter: I set up the green screen, studio lighting, and used several props that we recently purchased at a flea market for this (and future) shoot.
Lara initially wanted to use some of the five backdrops I hand-drawn for another creative first birthday photoshoot. These are human-size marker drawings on seamless paper backdrop, not a Photoshop manipulation:
To my despair, I must have lost those paper backdrops during the move. They took over eight hours to draw, and I certainly wanted to make use of them for the others. Alas… A green screen, as much as it feels like cheating on my own art, would be the solution. On the upside, overlaying stock images opens up more realistic and diverse opportunities. Finding those that match the perspective and scale of the raw image is still time consuming; I waded through hundreds of them for hours. Another highlight of this series are the couture hats from Bisou-Bisou Petite collection, gifted by a milliner and my dear friend Anya Caliendo for Veya’s birth.
Last break, change of clothes, and switching the background for a sweet candy feel. Another little masterpiece is starring here, a handmade toy by Natalia Andriuscova whom I’ve known from school. I couldn’t bear the overload of cuteness when I saw her custom creations and asked if I could feature one in a photoshoot. She mailed me an adorable doll from Montreal with which I quickly bonded. Check out her crafty collection but be warned—it’s hard to resist ordering at least one! I cannot believe she doesn’t run an Etsy store yet, I told her she must.
It was nearing 4 PM and I was pretty content with breaking the ground of my first birthday photoshoot in Poconos: we had waterfall, fairytale woods, sunshine, lake, picnic, doll, toys, teatime, bicycle, and family portraits. See what I mean by a toddler can handle an all-day photo session if done right? We did this to our own baby so put your worries away.
There is a spot above our house that feels special to us. We decided to wrap up the shoot there with the camera on tripod.
Guess what? I have a little behind-the-scene video from the first birthday photoshoot in Poconos to share with you:
Here’s a little demo of working with the green screen. After cutting out the green background, the next step is to match the raw color palette and texture with the stock background for a fairly believable final composition. As a final touch, shadows are painted in.
Lastly, to give a reference to the actual birthday, as opposed to four months ago, here are Veya’s recent phone pics. I know she’s absent from our social media and there are no superstitious reasons behind! Just keeping it modest. 🙂 Thank you for your time, friends.