Archive: ‘Parties’

Spy vs. Spy Party!

Sunday, July 14th, 2013


The boys had their 9th birthday party at the backyard Hempe Spy Training Institute and it was the best secret agent spy party ever!!

The creative direction all began when I found this book…. the party planning took on a life of it’s own at this point! it wasn’t that the book had party ideas but the books was an inspiration and so fun I highly recommend it! The boys couldn’t put it down!


The invitations were made complete with secret code and cypher key.




Before the new recruits got to the training center there was work to be done:


The bomb cake had to be made:


sparklers were voted in as the best choice for the candles this year!


and the Spy vs Spy figures made it to the cake, not on the top,  but around the bottom..




The spy vs spy theme was too hard to pass up with the twin thing and the fact that Evan has been running around the house playing the White Spy and keeping score against the Black Spy for weeks.


Cake is good but the menu had to be filled in with cup cakes too; we knew we would have hungry spies!


Baby bombs were added to the menu (chocolate droughts with red twizzlers).


I try to get this shot every year showing how old they are…



Once the recruits arrived, the first order of business was to get them fingerprinted at the Recruiting Station:


The spy names were their first name backwards!



James Bond was there to assist with the background check and prints.




Once the background checks and fingerprinting was complete the new recruits went to the training stations where they learned many spy skills:



Once all the training stations were completes the final task was a visit to the Spy Supply















All the recruits were fed and we lit the bomb!





I feel safer knowing that we have a new group of well trained spies ! Don’t you?!


Tips: my biggest tip for birthday parties is simply remember to shoot pictures! it is easy to get so caught up in the party that you forget to get the shots. When I am outside and there is plenty of light I will set the camera on the green box to get the quick shots. But, before the party starts I do try to get some good manual shots of the kids. Learn how to shoot manually it gives you so much more control of your exposures!

Have fun with your next party!

Day One of Art Camp!

Friday, August 31st, 2012

My boys, especially Andrew, loves art! If he has some time to kill he can generally be found sitting at the kitchen table with his art supplies out and some nice white paper. So they decided to have an Art Camp for boys at our house before school started this summer. I asked an ‘art teacher’ friend of mine to help out … we had 10 boys and her two girls and we had a blast!


We used a pirate theme for the party and picked out art projects every day that went with that theme. Everything seems to work better when you have a theme!

Each day before we started they filled in the ‘person’ drawing. I simply took white card stock and drew the beginning of an outline for a person (see the black lines below) then they added the face hair and other details. I love these! The theme for their drawing the first day was pirates of course.


img_1947 img_1872

Next we dove into our paper mache cannon ball project. it was a mess but it was fantastic!


For most, it was their first try at paper mache and the only thing I would do different is put more newspaper on the floor!!








ready for paint!


Next we worked on our sunset/pirate ship pictures. A coffee filter, a paper plate, food coloring and black paper….


We put a little food coloring in a cup of water and gave everyone a straw to drip it on the coffee filter.








Then we cut out the black art that we had copied.


A little glue finishes the project!


Photo tips: It is hard to take good shots indoors with not so great light. The best tip is to keep the flash off. Try looking for the auto no-flash setting on your camera and see how that works. Remember to keep the shutter speed up so the photos aren’t blurry.

Stay tuned for Day Two of Art Camp!

Party On!

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Two tough 8 year old (count the fingers) pirates! … Scary looking!


The party is about to start and everyone is getting very excited…. I like to have parties in the late afternoon so I have more time for last minute touches and am not so rushed. Plus a summer birthday party can be brutally hot at noon so the dinner time parties work best for us.


(The nets came from a left over vacation bible school program!)

The boys picked out their plates and the tables were set!! There are so many choices these days for cute party supplies that we just get a little of a variety instead of trying to make a decision on one choice.



We loaded the treasure chests with goldfish and the shark with fruit…


got the food on the table:


and put the flowers in a vase.


The treasure chest was loaded with black ‘cannon ball’ water balloons


and drinks were put on ice…


Friends came dressed for the part and the boys started arriving!


We gave them their hats, earrings, eye patches and bandanas and they worked hard to get the right pirate faces!


The gang is all here!



img_1038 img_1081




.. ‘playing dead’ happens a lot at a pirate party‘


Finding clues around the pond was necessary to get to the final treasure…


which was actually ‘buried’ in 12 little bags at the bottom of the pool!


Diving in to get the treasure out of the deep end was was worth it when it came to buying the loot!











The pirate ship got a work out….


and everyone had fun!


We finally got to eat the ‘sandy’ cake!



Sparklers are always a wonderful way to end any celebration and they are fun to photograph.



sparkler settings: shutter speed 1/4 second ISO 400 F Stop 3.5

We had a blast and the boys loved every minute. Celebrate your life and take time to photograph it along the way. Dive in and get off the green box and get more confident with your camera, you won’t know what you can do until you try it over and over! I promise your final treasure will be priceless!

(If you have any questions about the party planning post them on the Confident Camera Moms FB page I will be glad to answer them!)

More party Planning

Friday, June 29th, 2012

The Pirate Party needed just a few more touches!

I wanted to do some sort of Candy Bar for the party as they are so fun and festive. So, as the idea evolved for the Candy Bar I decided to pre warp some of the candy because it is difficult for little hands to gather enough candy in one handful. Plus, we were playing a game where each pirate would get a bag of money to spend on some goodies.

I began the very fun task of naming and wrapping the goodies for purchase at what became The Black Pearl trading post! I used some circle punches and paper and a cute Pirate Font (Pieces of Eight free on to begin my project.


The candy was bagged and ‘pirate’ names were given..this really didn’t take too long and I made sure we had 12  bags of each for our 12 pirate guests.



Once wrapped I placed them in baskets and on plates I located around the house!




The sparklers were a huge seller at the store, the little black bags had jewels in them.


The Gypsy Kisses were very popular! Dark chocolate kisses in gold wrapping. I tried to keep to a color theme with gold, red and black candy.


The Gold Nuggets were chocolate and worked really well in a bag as this would have been a mess if they were loose.


I loved the red gym balls (Party City) had to use them!


The warning sign was necessary as there were pirates roaming around  just ready to steal your loot!


The large marshmallows were a huge hit especially with the parents : )


Plenty of Hot Tamale bullets for these busy pirates..


The gold nugget candy was my personal favorite!



Instead of chocolate I choose bubble gym coins.


The final product was a table full of goodies and I think I had more fun  putting it together than the kids did eating the candy!! But as you know that isn’t possible …they LOVED  filling their bags with candy!


The dress up table was put together with swords, eye patches, face paint, hats, jewelry and earrings for all:


Guests will be here soon!

Photo Tips: Details are very important. When you photography events be sure to get the details. It is hard to remember this especially if you are putting on the event. Take as much before the party as you can and make a list… it will help!

Is it time for a Pirate Birthday Party?

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012



Plastic sword, Gold Earring and eye patch: $1.45

Pirate Hat: 50 cents

Watermelon: $3.99

8 year old Pirate Birthday Party: Priceless

As a mom of four I have learned that life celebrations are so important.  It isn’t about the gifts and the ‘bought’ stuff – it is the act of celebration and the ‘gathering together’ that is priceless. It is saying ‘I love you’ with a homemade cake and welcoming 12 little friends with an eye patch, a plastic earring and a ‘beard’.   Where else can you make and eat marshmallow starfish and watermelon sharks?  It Is not that we need to go over board with every event  but it is important to take time to make things special and creative. It is a good thing to break out of the routine and realize, as often as we can, how blessed we are. Recognizing people we love in a fun creative way doesn’t have to be hard or expensive – – the important thing is to do something out of norm to make the day special…and add a few whimsical  touches when you can!

Celebrate: To show happiness at something.

Our babies turned 8 this weekend. I remember that powerful day 8 years ago when our lives changed forever once again and again when they both arrived one minute apart. They have provided the sparkle and intrigue to our lives as each of our children has but being the youngest they make me more aware of the privilege I have to stop and enjoy and celebrate the moments that fly by so quickly.

Birthdays are a great time  to celebrate joy and life and to gather family and friends together to celebrate  good things. 

Yes, it is time for an 8 year old backyard pirate birthday party!

So how do you start? 

You start with a fun invitation designed by one of your almost 8 year old boys!

The next two post will be more about the how to of the party planning but remember that it is important to use your camera tips for these shots as well  i.e. no flash, blurry background etc.


Andrew drew the pirate and after a little thinking I decided to copy it on some velum and use it as an overlay for the party invite.


We used some pirate money to add a little bling to the project! It is hard to add bring when you have boys but I love bling and always look for the chance to use it!


Once we decided the menu we got to work. Our ‘sisters’ (Aunts, friends etc.) all came aboard with all hands on deck using their creative juices  – – most of the ideas were original but a few were ‘stolen’ in the spirit of the pirate theme!

The first item on the list was the  Starfish s’mores!


This is what we did!

Melt 2 bags of marshmallows and spread out on a mixture of cornstarch and powder sugar:


Use plenty of the corn starch/powder sugar to keep it from sticking to your hands. Let sit for a few hours or overnight.


Turn out onto wax paper and cut out with cookie cutter dipped in the corn starch mixture.


Paint with melted chocolate using a pastry brush. Be sure to get the sides. Tip: Most of the directions will tell you to dip the starfish in melted chocolate but that does not work! Your starfish will melt in the hot chocolate. Between all the women in the kitchen and after a few minutes of panic we discovered this method works beautifully! We added a touch or oil to the semi-sweet chips to make it spread easily.


Dip in finely crushed graham cracker crumbs while the chocolate is till wet. Shake it off.


Pour the ‘beach sand’ on a platter using organic granulated sugar; I chose the lighter version as the color reminded me of the beaches in Sanibel, FL – my favorite place!


Donna and Melissa added the candy eyes.



Then the starfish were finally placed on the beach all safe and sound


The second item was the watermelon shark! WOW!!


Our very talented Sara will do the demonstration for you here. It is important to find a long watermelon as opposed to a round one. The seeded ones are usually oblong and the seedless are usually round.

Make your first cut at an angle…


…so it will sit on the counter.


Then draw a line where you want the mouth to start:



We ended up putting toothpicks in for reference points to help us see what we were doing:


Scoop out the melon in the mouth and keep it in a bowl to use to make a fruit salad to stuff back in the mouth when you are done.


To carve out the teeth, you will need to cut a very shallow line above the first cut then cut the teeth. Cut the outer layer of the green rind off to expose the white part of the melon.


Make the teeth as sharp as you want! If you lose a few it will be OK – – most sharks are missing some teeth!


We cut a piece of the left over rind for the fin and attached it with toothpicks and cut a hole out for the black ‘gumball’ eye.



Here he is with the final touch of the added fruit!


Finally what is a party without a cake?! We couldn’t decide between a cake or cupcakes so – – you guessed it  – – we did both!

The cake started out as a rectangle shape with a white  icing layer.

We added blue icing to make the water. Tip: buy the colored icing from your grocery bakery department; most will sell it by the pound and it works very well and is so much easier than mixing those dark colors especially for black, red, orange, blue etc..


We used left over starfish graham cracker crumbs for the sand. Doesn’t it look just like sand!?


We figured out that using Twizzlers worked great for the ‘x’s and the dotted lines (we just cut them into pieces for the dotted lines).  Since Andrew and Evan are twins we needed two ‘x’s  on this cake and we could put their names easily on the water. This cake was evolving as we went which is how most things happen around here when I am in party planning mode! The decision was made toward the end to cover the round foil-covered cardboard with water and sand…I think it was a good one!


I had some picks from Pier One from a long time ago that were in the craft drawer and they worked great for the palm trees (sometime it is good to hang on to stuff you think you will never use!) We also stole some shells from the kids room that looked pretty cute on the sand – – -and just took them off before we served the cake.


Cake is done!…. what next????


Cup cakes!


The first trick here is to pipe the icing on the cup cakes so you don’t get icing on the edge of the cup cake papers.


We started with a simple design using cut up red fruit rollups for the red pirate hats and the black icing for the eyes and mouth.


But, we had access to the pirate picks that came with the cup cake papers …so… we had to use them of course! We had a blast making them all different designs! This part was so fun and the boys were loving every minute!


A cut nugget candy made this treasurer chest:


We cut some pirate money in half for this one and added blue water and brown sugar sand.. We used some blue gel icing on top of the regular blue icing to give the water a wet/wave look.


A few more ‘x’s with black icing and brown sugar and some organic granulated sugar sprinkled on top from the ‘starfish’ beach for sand on this one.


A Swedish Fish was cut in half for this one with some fish sprinkles added…


My favorite cake decorating item is the editable clear glitter – – not sure if you can see it in this photo but it really makes the cup cake sparkle! I love putting this on all my cakes for a fun touch. Gotta love the glitter!


The cup cakes are complete!





While the cake and starfish can be made the night before the party the shark needs to be done the day of if possible to keep it looking fresh.

We had so much fun together planning our party and troubleshooting the sticky marshmallows, what to do with the cake, how to get the shark eyeball to stay in  and all the decisions around the different designs on the cup cakes. The process is as important as the party : ) The process is one of the important memories so be sure to get photos of the process.

Stay tuned for Day Two of the pirate party planning on my next post! Still lots to do before the guests arrive!

Every Party starts with a cute Invitation!

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

We had  my  daughters end-of-year-gym-party recently and everyone knows that a great celebration starts with a great invitation! A lot of work goes into planning our life celebrations so it is important that we photograph them!

My friend and fellow gym mom, Marie, came up with the most wonderful invitations!


She even hand made the flower stickers to go on the back of the envelopes!



Andrew put his organizational skills to use and got them ready to hand out to the girls.






Once we had the invitations..the programs were easy!


…and so was the cake!


…and gift bags:


…and the front table!


The black, white and red theme was so easy and perfect for this event! I went early to get everything photographed before the crazy night began.



The candy bar was a big hit of the evening.


Remember to turn your flash off and don’t be afraid of the manual settings on your camera. You will like your photos much better. If you have a few minutes to work with your camera before you are distracted by everyone.


The biggest tip for shooting these type of events is to turn the people toward the natural light and turn your flash off.  If these girls had been facing the other direction their faces would have been dark with shadows.


Other helpful things to remember:

Make a list of what you want and don’t forget the details.

* photo of outside the venue

* party decorations and details (flowers, invitations, gifts, cake  etc.) all of these can be shot before the guests arrive.

* bring a guest list to check off names as you go so you don’t forget anyone

Recruit someone to help you line up the guests; it is hard to ask people to turn around and then be the one to get the shots too.

Get the shots you need early – – once the festivity/program  begins it is almost impossible to think about what you need!

Plan to photograph couples/parents with daughters/sons as they come in possibly even before they come in the main door. Photograph them together outside of the venue before they see their friends and get sidetracked.

Be sure to bring an extra battery and extra memory for your camera.

This is the time of year for end of year celebrations and graduations parties and other events so be sure to document them with your camera – -you will be so happy to have the pictures once the party is over!!

Surprise 70th! A Photo Story!

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Are you the mom with the camera at all the family events?!

If you are…here are a few tips for shooting an adult birthday party indoors!

1.Get your shots ahead of time if possible. for this surprise party I was able to get quite a bit before the birthday girl arrived.  Make sure your camera is loaded with an empty card and full battery and get there 30 min early. ..and start shooting!

During this time you can get the Location:


the decorations (remember to get them up close)






The cake!



Don’t forget the menu.


I also got all the single shots of the couples while we were waiting for the big moment!

img_6687 img_6691img_6685

2. Pay attention to the timing and don’t ‘miss the big moments that can’t be repeated:

the birthday girl arriving:


the cake all lit up:


the blowing out of the candles:


any other entertainment!



3. angle shots work well with celebration photos … especially with food. It makes the shot more interesting.


4. Tell the story and get the emotion of the celebration…you know best what that is!



5.  Finally, step back and get the big picture shots. These are hard to remember but always good to have!


Have fun documenting your celebrations this summer!

I post my photos on my SmugMug gallery so everyone can enjoy them (that way I just post once and don’t have to send emails to everyone.) They can view them from that gallery! 

camera settings:

I was indoors so I ended up with a high ISO 2000-2500. I kept my ss around 1/200 for most of these shots and my f stop between 4-5. Dun was going in and out so I could have lowered my ISO. Remember some cameras are grainy at high ISOs so you want to keep it as low can you can.

One more shot of this sign it was such a cool place!


Ring the Cowbell the Party is Starting!

Thursday, July 14th, 2011


Party day is finally here!  There were lots of photos! Here goes!!


Big brother Adam was the sheriff..


The tables were set with ‘boot’ vase and all, and you can see that I had a hard time deciding on the plates so I got a few each of different kinds!

img_5825 img_5823




img_5720 img_5885

I always love to get this shot at their birthday; it will work till they are about ten I guess!


The Cowboy menu was so easy:  hot dogs, chili for the dogs, baked beans, corn on the cob, corn bread, fruit kabobs,  and animal crackers.

img_5852   img_6378 







We played games!








and roasted marshmallows ..



img_6259 img_6214

The Cowboys earned money to spend at each game and it was burning a hole in their pockets for sure….. they couldn’t wait to shop at the General Store,  the biggest hit of the day!


Grandma and Grandpa were the wheeling/dealing store keepers and bargains were had all evening!









The little Cowboys had fun too:



img_5963      img_6018

We ended with a mama-made chocolate cake …



…and a backyard full of happy Cowboys and Cowgirls!


Camera Mom Photo Tips:

  1. Get as many shots as you can before the party starts. Set up early and get lots of shots of your kids and decorations and other family before friends arrive. Try to get some cake shots early too.
  2. Make a list of what you want and keep it in your pocket.
  3. I kept my setting on the no flash setting and the sports setting for many shots. Be sure to adjust the ISO as the light changes. It was getting darker and darker so I had to pay attention to the light! Be sure your shutter is set high enough  if you are on manual and don’t forget to keep shooting!
  4. Take a lot of photos, you will be surprised when it is over that you don’t have as many as you think you took!
  5. Put them in a digital book as soon as possible so you don’t forget the details!

Shopping Tips for the Party:

Oriental Trading: hats, bandannas, cupcake papers and picks, paper plates

Wanted Posters were made using Storybook Creator software

Hobby Lobby: various Cowboy decorations from the 80% off sale rack! fabric for table and banner, paper plates, candles for cake, cake stand (actually a candle holder/stand!)

Dollar General: cap guns, marbles, cowboy toy figures

Cracker Barrel: candy and bottled drinks

I spent a little more than I usually do on a typical birthday party but the theme was so fun and the laughter and memories were priceless!

How to Plan a Vintage Cowboy Birthday Party!

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Knobby knees and birthday parties mark the beginning of summer at our house!


I got the idea that my boys needed to learn what a real Cowboy was when they dressed up in a cowboy hat and bandana and put their Star Wars lightsaber in their belt!  Even though I’m sure it is perfectly fine for a Cowboy to use a lightsaber, I felt the need to set the record straight and teach them what a real cowboy was and that they didn’t have lasers and R2D2 in the Wild West : )


So we went the library and got some books and read up on real Cowboy  life and what they did years ago. I actually learned a lot too!


Then Andrew started drawing cowboy ‘stuff’…

image 2011-6-24 0001 image 2011-6-24 0002

image 2011-6-24 0005  image 2011-6-24 0006  image 2011-6-24 0007

(don’t forget to scan your kids art and make them jpegs so you can put them in your digital books.)

and we  came up with an idea for the invitations…

Wanted Posters - Page 001

I found these great drinks at Cracker Barrel  – –

and ….. the idea for the Cowboy Birthday party was officially born!


So the boys decided that if we were gonna have a Cowboy Party we needed Wanted Posters for their friends (they made up the crimes!):

Wanted Posters 12 x 18 - Page 004  Wanted Posters 12 x 18 - Page 005  Wanted Posters 12 x 18 - Page 006 Wanted Posters 12 x 18 - Page 007  Wanted Posters 12 x 18 - Page 008 Wanted Posters 12 x 18 - Page 009  Wanted Posters 12 x 18 - Page 010  Wanted Posters 12 x 18 - Page 011

and if we had Wanted Posters we would need new spurs for our boots ..


(“Remember not to squat with your spurs on.”)

and if we had new spurs we needed bandannas and hats for everyone…


….and new cap guns from the dollar store….not the orange plastic kind….


As you can see the ideas grew and grew and the party planning took on a life of its own!

So how do you prepare for a real old fashion vintage Cowboy backyard birthday party when  you are 7 and you have a twin brother who you can team up with and share ideas?

Well, you start with candy of course…






and if you have candy…you have to have Moon Pies!


and if you have Moon Pies you have to have toys…



and if you have candy, moon pies and toys you may as well set up a General Store because your mom won’t want you to keep all that stuff for yourself….



and if you have a General Store you have to have play money to buy stuff.


The best part about planning the party is watching your big brother and big sister play with the stuff and pretend they are 7 again!

 img_5630  img_5634





You grab the red stars off the wall in your room and help your mom put up a few decorations.



Put some art up and set up the games…

img_5597 img_5698





And you sleep in your cowboy outfit the night before with your guns under your pillow in the fort you and your brother made in your room… after all you only have one more night to be six.

You can’t wait for tomorrow for your friends to arrive.

And tomorrow seems like about a million years away…

when you are six!

Stay tuned for more party pictures in my next post!!

Have You Ever Seen a Cake Like This?

Monday, June 27th, 2011

As a camera mom you will find that you have many opportunities to photograph cakes. We are always there with our camera at life celebrations and I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the request: “Melanie, can you take a picture of the cake?” And it is usually right before it is being carried out or right before the candles are being put on!

I love shooting cakes. They are so beautiful and the colors are so vivid. They don’t jump around and ….let’s be honest, what could be more fun than shooting chocolate and sugar!

We had our end of the year party for our baseball team at our home…..and the team mom asked me to take a picture of the cake.  I adjusted my camera and waited with anticipation for her to open the very very huge white box (I think this cake was about 2 1/2 feet long!).

Have you ever seen a cake like this?!


I haven’t!

It was unbelievable!!

Here are a few tips for photographing party cakes:

1. Get the best side

She explained that part of the cake had fallen due to the ride in the car but….it was still so very cool and with some creative photography I could work around the fallen part.


2. Shoot the details.

My favorite part of the cake is generally the details of the decorations.


3. Get close.

This was taken without a flash and it was dark by this time of the evening so I had to up the ISO and lower the f-stop, hence the good exposure but also the blur.


4. Take many shots.

I took quite a few shots to get the best angles. 


5. Watch your background. Like every other photo shoot, you have to watch that you don’t have a trash can or something or someone else distracting in the background….there are usually a lot of people around a cake!

6. Shoot early. Try to photograph the cake way before the people come if possible. It can make you very nervous to be under the pressure of getting the good cake shots while folks are waiting to blow out the candles or waiting for their first piece. If you photograph early, you can also move it around to get it in the best light instead of the available light (Like I had to use above).

Remember, once it is cut it is all over!

The cake was cute but not as cute as the kids of course!



The kids had a blast with their coaches.



The weather was beautiful…a cross between the beautiful magic evening sunset and ‘trying not to rain’ clouds.


The trophies were loved and I tried to get the best shot in the dark without a flash!


This is the time of year for family gatherings and celebrations so get your camera ready for the big events and make a list of what you want to get. When in doubt go to the ‘no flash’ auto setting on your camera (the box with the lightening bolt in it with a cross through it) and just keep shooting.  I am getting the photos off my camera today from the Cowboy Birthday party we had for the boys this weekend…can’t wait to share those!

Happy Cake shooting….and eating!


All Images and Content Copyright © 2010 Confident Camera Moms | Blog Theme Modified by Lusch Designs