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How to film your child(ren)’s birthday and have an after movie ready the same evening

Tips & Tricks

Here are some quick tips in case you have your child(ren)’s birthday coming up, and you’d like to have a small memory of it. Maybe you want to share it with family far away, or simply for yourself to remember. You can film with practically anything: a phone, a digital compact, a DSLR, the Red Epic – you name it, just be prepared to shoot to edit 😉

Don’t worry, with a smartphone you are ready in a ‘mum’ of time! (pun well intended!)

Plan ahead

Work not only on the guest and the shopping list – but the shot list as well. Know what you want to remember, and to show in your little movie. Some ideas to film:

  • preparations (decorating, snacks, balloons, cake arriving/preparing etc)
  • getting dressed (kids in their Sunday clothes)
  • guests arriving (kisses from oma-opa, friends)
  • presents opening, “thank you”-s and hugs & kisses
  • cake, candles, “snackings”
  • playing with the toys, new presents,
  • guests leaving

Remember the “cutaways” (or B-roll)! These are the shots that are related to your film, but people don’t usually notice: the details. Close-ups of the cake, the little hands tearing apart the wrapping of the presents, the grin of the birthday boy/girl from up close. Don’t have to be a lot, but a couple of seconds can give extra life to your video.

Be prepared

  • Know your equipment, so try that out first. Make some tryout shots the week before. Get used to your camera that you can just grab and roll at the important occasion. That means know your smartphone as well. Did you know you can do slow-motion? No? Come on, check that out, everything is better in slow motion!
  • Remember to charge the camera’s batteries and check the memory cards for space (ie.: put your phone on the charger and make sure there is enough space for photos and videos the night before)
  • Charge your spouse’s phone as well and make sure there is enough memory too
  • Have your tripod somewhere nearby, if you have a video camera. For safety put everything high enough, that small kids can’t reach your equipment.
  • Check for the safety cords too, unless you want the birthday boy/girl ending up filmed with a nice red mark on the forehead 😀

Delegate the work

  • ask others to go around with the snacks and coffee,
  • let your in-laws/neighbors/friends help the kids with the cake, opening the wrapping – and the games they play,
  • make sure there is enough wet wipes for everybody to clean the little messy faces and hands regularly. It’s fun once, cake smash – but you want to preserve how they look for real too.

The importance of this is that you’ll have a little space and time. Don’t worry about giving your partner, your family members, and even guests something to do. They will all understand when you tell them you need extra hands to make a video memory to remember it all by.

Also important that you let it go: they will do things differently. Just put it into their hands, and let it roll. Concentrate on filming instead of giving directions to everybody.

BirthdaysSome more to keep in mind

  • Remember to shoot wide, medium and close-ups, that you can mix them up later. That means group shot, torso+face, face/detail.
  • Keep still, quiet and keep it short. Don’t have to film three hours to have a great 3-minute video. Make 10-seconds long shots to begin with.
  • Use creative angles: from up high or down low. You can show how kids swinging their feet under the table (medium), how they blow bubbles into their glasses with straws (close-up)
  • To capture the atmosphere shoot with the typical birthday objects in the foreground: like balloons, heap of presents or wrapping paper
  • Avoid filming the backs of peoples’ heads as much as possible. You can film from over the shoulder (it’s a point of view), when you have a little bit of their shoulders and faces from behind in one corner of the frame of course.
  • Try to frame tight: if people are too far apart, tell them to stand/sit closer.
  • Remember to stay silent! Audio is (almost) everything to video 🙂
  • When the candles are being blown out, it can be very dark. Try pointing a light source (big lamp) at a nearby wall. It’ll bounce the light, and give an even, more natural look to your video. Of course that is really tough when you are bringing the cake in one hand and lighting the candles with the other. Remember to delegate, you can’t be everywhere!

Editing the Birthday video footage

After you’ve organized your video files on your computer (keep it neat: year, month, occasion), import it into your editing software. I’m recommending PowerDirector by Cyberlink for years now to the beginner and the more advanced editors too. It’s a great tool! As the birthday video is usually expected to go chronologically, you won’t have too much trouble putting your clips next to each other, and trim the parts that are shaky. That is the rough cut, what you have there. The best shots.

When that’s too long (above 5 minutes) you can start trimming, cutting more rigorously. Have your headphones on. Sometimes it makes sense to separate the audio and video, and while the audio flows seamlessly, you insert some of those details that I warned you to remember filming about. The B-roll, yes! You see people chatting, laughing, the conversation flows and you can insert a cutaway: a close-up about the birthday cake being cut, the messy kids’s faces or hands, the balloons, presents, dangling feet and alike. It makes it lively and you get to see the details.


Audio is (almost) everything to video. You can watch bad footage with a quality that would put the Blair Witch project to shame without a problem if the sounds are smooth. But any – and I mean ANY – 4K Planet Earth-like video would be switched off immediately – if it would be filled with sudden shouts, babies crying and harsh noises. So keep (yourself) silent while you roll, and insert a nice piece of music at the end to cover the little inconsistencies in your audio.

Fun fact: if you switch the conversation off completely, and only have music, your video – like magic – will become ‘some people at some party’, and it’s not so personal anymore. Remember this if you want to share your creation with the world – people don’t like to be filmed in the first place, but when their private thoughts are audible… they tend to be even less enthusiastic about it.

For the smartphone users

It’s so easy nowadays: you shoot and the video is literally in your back pocket. I’m recommending Cameo by Vimeo (if you are using iPhone) to edit your project. The limitation of the app is one of it’s greatest strengths: you don’t have to worry about the choices you otherwise would have trouble making.

The first steps are that you import your clips and trim away the parts you don’t want. You can choose for each individual clip to be silent, audible or boosted – and then you can go ahead and find a nice little background music for it. There is a directory of musicians who allow us, digitally creative bugs to use their music (and it’s a really diverse folder!). You can even have a little effect to the colors (make it look like yester-year), the whole clip – or make it black and white.

You can upload it to your Vimeo account private or public. If you install Vimeo the app, you can tweak the privacy, give a password to it and only share with those who are important for you.

Voila, you are ready!

I have to admit, the more you do it, the better you’ll get: so don’t be shy about it, start practicing today. Shoot, edit, and then some. To have a little inspiration, here is a short showcase of a family celebration of ours, check it out!

Now go ahead and enjoy the party! Let me know in the comments how it turned out 😉

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