Wedding Photographers San Francisco City Hall
Welcome to our San Francisco City Hall photography website. We are one of the most experienced professional wedding photographers at San Francisco City Hall with over 1,500 marriages creatively photographed. The history and beauty of this affordable wedding venue attracts couples from all over the world! Michael has over 20 years of photographic experience and will take you to the best locations in San Francisco City Hall to create romantic pictures and memories. In addition, we will gladly walk you through the entire ceremony check-in process to make your nuptials the best they can be. We want to be your city hall wedding photographer!
San Francisco City Hall - Best Venue
We have creatively photographed civil ceremonies and receptions throughout the entire Northern California area, but San Francisco City Hall continues to be one of our most popular urban venues to have your marriage ceremony. At certain times of the day the natural light is incredible, but even when it's not, we bring in our own professional photography lighting! Our vast knowledge of this historic building will help keep you in less crowded areas and ensures ideal natural light depending upon the time of day. To see examples of our wedding photography, view our City Hall Photo Gallery page and for recent individual weddings click San Francisco Weddings. This section features our top 10 images from each event and in most cases many more photos are displayed. If you book us for your marriage, we will provide you with the best San Francisco city hall wedding photography possible. To check our availability for your civil ceremony date and time, click the Contact Link and consider hiring us for your San Francisco civil marriage. We will respond to your email inquiry promptly and answer any specific questions or concerns you have. Whether you are planning an elopement or large family marriage event, we can provide you with exceptional yet economical photographic coverage of your town hall nuptials. Our award winning wedding photography style ensures your precious memories will forever be recorded enabling you to relive your special day for years to come.
We love photographing civil ceremonies at San Francisco City Hall and would be happy to show you some of our best bridal portfolios. Let us explain our affordable city hall wedding photography packages by setting up a professional consultation or better yet, talk to us over the phone for your convenience. We will work within your budget to provide you with the most inexpensive prices and packages possible with amazing quality. We pride ourselves in making your special day the best through our positive attitude and relaxed demeanor. Our goal is to make your city hall experience magical and fun. We will take you on a photographic tour of all 4 floors of this amazing building while creating beautiful images that you will cherish for a lifetime. Check out our SF City Hall photography Blog to see announcements, recent pictures, and special pricing when available. We will also share the latest news or events at city hall that we know about. To learn more about our unique and creative approach, please see some of our sample San Francisco city Hall wedding Yelp Reviews below. You can also click the above link if you would prefer to research all of our reviews in greater detail. We average a 5 star rating on Yelp! More important than the 5 stars are the review details themselves. We encourage our potential future brides and grooms to read some of the detail of the reviews because it will provide you with a better idea of how we treat our clients on their wedding day. We strive to not only provide you with the best photographic images, but also to make your marriage day special. We do this by not over-posing you and keeping your photo session moving quickly, but most importantly, making it enjoyable. We receive as many compliments about our demeanor and friendliness as we do about our final results - the pictures!
Top Rated SF City Hall Yelp Reviews
Kevin from Manchester England - "Mike and Toni were magnificent for our San Francisco city hall wedding yesterday... Funny, knowledgeable, calming, generous, hard working and above all else fantastic photographers who know all the premiere spots in city hall for photos... You have to book these guys!" (Yelp Review from 2016)
Genevieve from San Diego, California - Mike and Toni were professional, efficient and amazing wedding photographers! They helped us navigate the entire process, from checking in to the actual ceremony. Mike made sure we were on time, and even convinced the judge to let us get married on the Mayor's Balcony - gorgeous!!" (Yelp Review from 2012)
Tracy from Palo Alto, California - "I was really impressed with Mike from the outset - he was responsive and effective in answering my many questions and I had many! Mike also provided us with guidance on what to expect on our special day at City Hall. His expertise/guidance proved to be VERY helpful on our actual wedding day when we were able to be married on the Mayor's Balcony. Awesome!!! ... I am so glad we hired Mike, the photos will serve as beautiful reminders of our special day." (Yelp review from 2017)
San Francisco Wedding Photography Tour
One of our most popular packages is our San Francisco Wedding Photo Tour. Many out-of-town and international wedding couples take advantage of this package, but it's fun for anyone! After your ceremony and city hall interior and exterior photo session, we take you on a tour of the town and you can choose the greatest SF destinations to visit! If you are a newcomer to "The City", we are happy to help you select prime San Francisco landmarks that match your personal preferences. We provide comfortable transportation and make it a fun and romantic adventure for the newlyweds. Some of the top destinations we can journey to include: The Palace of Fine Arts, Japanese Tea Gardens, Coit Tower, Baker Beach, the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge, Ghirardelli Square, Crissy Field, The Botanical Gardens, and San Francisco's famous Legion of Honor. At your option, we can drive both of you to each location and take beautiful wedding pictures, but also allow you to wander around and enjoy. We will sometimes just follow our newlyweds while walking through San Francisco downtown areas and photograph them in a documentary style. Want to ride a Cable Car? We will transport you to the prime place to board San Francisco's famous icon and capture a fun shot of both of you riding or just hanging on and pretending. We prefer to do this at Ghirardelli Square because the Powell Street Cable Car turnaround is right there. The cable cars stop at this location while waiting to go in and load up with additional passengers. It is also possible to catch the California Street line and we can sometimes do that down by Market Street at the Trolley Car turntable. Here is a detailed list of San Francisco Photo Tour Locations available to you after after your San Francisco Courthouse wedding.
This incredible and favored package includes 4 hours of photographic coverage and you retain ALL of the photos and digital files we take for a cost of only $1,295. Many of our married couples request that we amplify the tour so they can unearth even more quality San Francisco attractions for better picture opportunities. We are more than pleased to do this and will take you to some of the less touristy, but still optimum SF destinations. No matter what locations you choose, the San Francisco Tour Package is the best way to celebrate your nuptials in this "City by the Bay". Other top-rated picture spots include Twin Peaks, Pier 7, Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Point, North Beach, Lover's Lane, Fort Mason, Sutro Baths, Union Square and Golden Gate Park. The San Francisco Package comprises of ALL of the image files photographed at your wedding delivered to you by Dropbox or Direct Download from your convenient Photo Viewing Website. We also offer optional professional wedding albums to supplement this great package for the reasonable price of $425! Other sizes and styles are available at a slightly higher cost.
Top Wedding Packages for Every Budget
We have an economical package for every budget and preference. If you don't discover one that fits your needs, let us know and we would be happy to send you a custom quote specific to your desires. If you like the idea of incorporating San Francisco scenery and historical districts into your wedding photos, but don't want to spend as much time, we offer The Golden Gate Package for a fee of $895. This package provides 1 supplementary San Francisco exterior location and 2.5 hours of coverage at this marked down price ($100 off). Many of our clients find this to be just enough professional picture taking for one day! You still receive all of the digital images photographed at your civil ceremony, plus we include sample photos in Sepia Tone and Black and White for your review. We even provide you with a few special effect photos just for fun! We also offer engagement portrait sessions with any of our packages for a discounted price. Check out our professional quality wedding albums and full wedding reception coverage if needed. To see a YouTube slideshow of a recent SF tour click: Wedding Photography Tour or check out this recent San Francisco Wedding Tour Video.
Best City Hall Ceremony Locations?
This is the most commonplace question that our engaged couples inquire about. There are umpteen ceremony location options at San Francisco City Hall and all of them are fabulously magical. We undeniably have our preferences, but not all are available unless you are willing to pay an extra $1,000 for a private ceremony on the 4th floor or Mayor's Balcony. If you look at the guidelines from the City Hall website, it's clear that your Marriage Commissioner actually has the right to determine where to perform your ceremony. Most officiants give the choice to the couple, but limit the options to the Rotunda or the private room (newly renovated). It doesn't hurt to inquire if it's conceivable to have your service at an alternative location, we have seen many marriage commissioners grant our bride and groom's request. However, in recent months it seems to be more and more rare. It periodically ensues when there are disruptions or other events in the Rotunda, but this is unforeseeable. With the 6 guest rule now being enforced, this throws another variable into the mix. Couples with larger groups may not be offered location options due to potential disruptions caused by large groups. When you first check-in with the County Clerk, they will ask your guest count. If you have over 6 guests, you will likely be told that your ceremony must take place in the Private room. I recently watched a City Hall Officiant delay the start of the ceremony because the extra people she asked to leave would not. Here is a list of the most desirable and enticing places to celebrate your nuptials at San Francisco city hall:
Great Rotunda - This is the default location for all standard city hall civil marriage celebrations. When you meet with your officiant before the wedding you will usually be given 2 options for your civil ceremony location, either the Rotunda or the private room. Virtually every couple chooses the Rotunda, which is located at the top of the Grand Staircase by the elevators. The Rotunda is an excellent place to celebrate your ceremony but you can expect only a small amount of privacy because of elevator foot traffic adjacent to the set up. There is no guarantee that total strangers won't walk in and watch your ceremony. Some sf city hall tourists even take photos and we do our best to shoe them away! The City Hall Rotunda is a wedding photography friendly area because of the walls surrounding a significant portion of the area. It provides us something to bounce our flashes off of to help create softer and more subtle light on dark days. It's also beneficial because the officiant does not have to deal with a flash going off right in their faces over and over again. The little bit of privacy afforded by these stern walls is also welcome.
Private Ceremony Room - The other option for a standard civil ceremony is the private ceremony room. For eloping couples who prefer privacy, this is the place to go. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe got married in a private room at San Francisco City Hall! The room isn't particularly large so it is most appropriate for elopements. However, it does provide seats for your guests and a little bit of wedding related decor. We strongly recommend avoiding the private room on warm summer days as it can become very stuffy and hot. We have seen no evidence that there is any air conditioning in the room. The private room is located close to the County Clerk's office at room 168. Update: The private room has been completely redecorated and has now become a much improved ceremony option. In addition, beginning in May, 2019, couples showing up with more than 6 guests for their wedding will be moved to the Private Room to avoid disruption in the Rotunda area and/or Mayor's Office. The County Clerk is under strict orders by San Francisco city hall to not allow large and loud wedding parties within the confines of the Rotunda. If you show up with a large group of friends and relatives, expect your entire wedding party to be sent to this room for your nuptials.
Grand Staircase - There are a few marriage commissioners who will offer you the opportunity to perform your ceremony either at the top of the Grand Staircase or on the lower landing. Although this is a gorgeous location with unique architecture, it's not the quintessential place to get married. The staircase is frequently laden with International tourists, wedding photographers, and other married couples. From a photographer's standpoint it's difficult to get first-rate picture angles during the ceremony because of where we have to stand. It is also not feasible to try to keep the tourists away from the ceremony. There is always at least one tourist who is oblivious to the whole thing and will walk right through your ceremony. However, if you love the stairs, then feel free to make it your matrimonial location! Either way, we will escort you to the Grand Staircase following the ceremony and try to obtain some nice shots if it's not too congested. As is the case with all of these locations, we can always take you there later to acquire creative and beautiful photos of the newlyweds. In recent months, we have seen this location being used less and less. I am pretty sure that the one officiant who really enjoyed this location has retired.
Mayor's Balcony - There are 2 different ways to have your ceremony on the Mayor's Balcony: 1. Pay $1,000 so you can have a roped off, private ceremony with complete privacy, chairs for your guests, and plenty of room. Or 2. Pay the standard fee and see if you can coax your marriage commissioner into performing your ceremony there! Some officiants will take you there if there are no events at the time. You may also receive the option to go there if there are disruptions in the Rotunda. One of our favorite ceremony locations, the Mayor's Balcony is located on the 2nd floor directly across from the Rotunda. Statues of former Mayor's George Moscone, Diane Feinstein and Willie Brown overlook your ceremony from this excellent location. It can be a little dark on the balcony on a foggy or cloudy day, but we bring professional off-camera lighting so we can still obtain great images. Warning, your cell phones will normally not create very good pictures on the Mayor's Balcony because of the back lighting present. If you are lucky, you might even see the new Mayor, London Breed wandering though the area. Note: As of this writing, it has become rare to be able to have your Civil Ceremony in this location. If you are really interested in the Mayor's Balcony you can pony up the additional $900 and have it all to yourselves!
Fourth Floor Balcony - This is San Francisco City Hall's other private ceremony location. Also referred to as the Fourth Floor North Gallery, it's absolutely romantic and beautiful with incredible architecture and natural light. It's not uncommon for a couple to take a deep breath and gasp when they first walk on this floor. It really is breathtaking. Similar to the Mayor's Balcony, you remit the price of $1,000 and the event department ropes off the entire balcony and even sets up chairs for your ceremony. On very rare occasions you might be able to convince an officiant to perform a standard civil ceremony here. Over the course of our 500+ weddings photographed at San Francisco City Hall, we have discovered that certain marriage commissioners are prepared to move your ceremony if there is some sort of disturbance occurring in the Rotunda area. The 4th floor North Gallery is breathtaking and it's just another of the amazing options accessible to couples getting married here. If you happen to be a Shutterbug yourself, this location will wow you! This is probably one of the most favored ceremony locations among our brides and grooms. The huge windows let in an abundance of warm natural light. Once the ceremony is over, it's a great place for some wedding photography with just the bride and groom or same-sex couple. One of the benefits of renting this area out is that after the ceremony, you have unlimited access to the Gallery for the remainder of the hour. This prevents other SF city hall wedding photographers from coming in and getting in our way. Click on this FAQ link for more helpful SF wedding photography tips. Note: On most Tuesday early afternoons, the County Clerk has been instructed to move all civil ceremonies to the 4th floor because the Board of Supervisors have their meeting on this day. The presence of ongoing wedding celebrations can be disruptive to these political meetings.
Other Ceremony Locations - Through the years we have explored the many corridors, passageways, and rooms in this unsurpassed building. For our customers that provide their own officiant, we are happy to help find a nice private location for the wedding ceremony. We can also recommend experienced professional marriage commissioners who we have worked with in the past to help with this process. A few of our recommended officiants use the same robes worn by city hall's own marriage commissioners. This can be a benefit because tourists and other wanderers will steer clear of your ceremony because they think it is being performed by a City Hall officiant. It makes your private ceremony appear more "official". If you are interested in including a "first look" or "reveal" in your wedding photography coverage, we have some optional locations for you to select from. We can find you a private ceremony location on the 3rd floor of city hall (south side) usually, but there are many other picturesque locations that are viable. We will also help set up the reveal (First Look) for your convenience and fun. For more information about alternative ceremony locations, email us and we can show you some sample photos of the proceedings and backgrounds available.
Fun SF City Hall Wedding Photographer!
After over 20 years in the professional wedding photography business, we have learned that the best way to create lasting memories on your big day is to keep things light-hearted and fun. We will do everything we can to make your special day marvelous. Having your wedding pictures taken should not be a hassle, it should be an amazing and fulfilling experience. We accomplish this by maintaining an easy-going style and not over-posing you. We will be actively involved in making sure your courthouse wedding pictures turn out creative and amazing, but we do it in an upbeat manner without pushing you into complicated and intricate poses. Most importantly, WE have a wonderful time photographing you and it shows in your images! Read our Yelp reviews and you will notice the large percentage of clients that compliment us not just on the picture quality, but on the experience itself! We strive to provide our couples a combination of documentary style, photojournalism and some traditional portraits. We will also alter our approach depending upon your stated preferred photography style.
To learn more about the History of San Francisco City Hall on Wikipedia, including famous San Francisco weddings that have occurred here, check this Wikipedia link. We are also more than willing to receive input from you regarding your personal photographic preferences. We want to know your own style and personality so we can make sure these attributes show through in your final digital images. Do you like mostly candid, photojournalist, or traditional photos? Our Brides and Grooms often let us know some of their favorite poses and San Francisco locations and we are happy to accommodate them. We also ask each client if there is anything specific that they would like us to photograph as we walk around city hall. Many brides and grooms choose the Grand Staircase, but we occasionally get surprised with their selected photographic locations and that's a great thing!
City Hall Approved Wedding Photographers
Our photography studio has been added to San Francisco City Hall's Event Department approved list. We have submitted the necessary paperwork and meet all of the insurance requirements that permit us to photograph private SF Courthouse events. Our many years of successfully photographing weddings and events at this popular venue has allowed us to be included on this list. We were also a major contributor to the City Hall event marketing brochure and have been asked by the event director to contribute pictures for the most current version. What does all of this mean for you? Just the knowledge that you have chosen a well established, top rated wedding photographer that you can rely on with tons of experience and credibility. In addition, if you are planning a Saturday wedding at San Francisco City Hall (and certain weekday reserved events), you are only allowed to use approved vendors due to insurance liability issues. We have forged professional relationships with many of City Hall's special event coordinators and often receive important information that assists us in navigating the entire matrimonial process. This includes frequently receiving advance notice about upcoming special events at city hall that could help us avoid problems photographing your marriage. We specialize in photographing weddings at this premium venue, we don't just do it on the side. Last year alone (2019) we photographed over 80 local weddings at San Francisco City Hall! 2020 is looking to be a record year based upon early bookings!
Local Knowledge of San Francisco
As a SF native, I started my business right here in this town over 22 years ago. I was born here, and graduated from the University of San Francisco also receiving a Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA) a few years later at this popular urban school. Yes, that's correct, a real live San Francisco native (and proud of it). As our City Hall business has expanded, I find myself spending more and more time exploring this beautiful city. It's fun discovering new neighborhoods and checking out the bars, restaurants and shops. Some of the places I would strongly recommend exploring include the Haight/Ashbury district, Nob Hill, Noe Valley, The Castro, South of Market (SOMA) and the Marina District. North Beach is a favorite of mine and I love dropping into many of it's amazing Italian eateries and having some Fresh Pasta or Cioppino (Try my favorite place, Sotto Mare on Green Street for amazingly fresh fish). For a true authentic Italian meal experience go to E Tutto Qua. Some of our clients enjoy taking a walking tour of these areas and we photograph the experience Paparazzi style. It is a very natural way of having your wedding photos taken while exploring Fisherman's Wharf or any other part of San Francisco. As a Bay Area native, I am also happy to acknowledge that I am a Golden State Warriors, Giants and 49ers fan!
If you choose our "San Francisco Package", my local city knowledge will lead you to the most beautiful spots in this town and the ideal times to travel there for traffic and quality of light (regardless of the fog!). See below for details on this popular photography SF tour package. To learn more about having your wedding at this famous venue, check out these Huffington Post San Francisco City Hall articles. We are a full service professional wedding photographer and offer our customer's engagement sessions, formal bridal portraits, pre-wedding shoots, maternity and new-born photography. We also offer all of normal photography related products such as wedding albums, folios and prints. We can even shoot your family portrait at SF City Hall if you are interested (yes, I have samples!) Your final images will combine photojournalism and traditional posing to ensure you receive everything you need from your shoot. Our service is open to all regardless of race, creed, culture or national origin. We are a same-sex, gay/lesbian/LGBTQ friendly wedding photographer. If you are looking for a short cut to all of our important pages - review our City Hall Wedding Site Map.
Top 5 Reasons to Marry in San Francisco
Why do people from all over the world come to "Everybody's Favorite City" to get married? There are so many reasons to visit this beautiful town, but is it really a good destination wedding locale? Yes it certainly is! Fantastic weather, incredible views, historic sites, art work, and so much more. San Francisco really is one of the highest rated wedding destinations so let's explore some of the main factors engaged couples consider when making the all important decision of where to get married.
1. Wide Variety of Reception/Event Locations - San Francisco, with it's many restaurants, clubs and hotels, offers a multitude of unique places for a marriage reception/celebration. If you love gourmet food, SF ranks as one of the foremost areas in the country to indulge in culinary delights. A fine local restaurant offering your favorite food is the perfect place to invite guests to celebrate your big day. Many possess large private areas to have a number of guests all together. There are even a few potential reception locations that are walking distance from city hall, we are happy to help guide you with recommendations for these local spots. Soluna Cafe and Absinthe are some of the preeminent locations close to SF City Hall and both have facilities to accommodate your large guest count. Many of the City's clubs and large pubs also offer fantastic wedding reception facilities and are located in our historic districts. Yes, some of the hotels can be comparatively expensive, but many offer antique charm or modern amenities at a reasonable cost. Most recently the SOMA and NOPA districts have become well known for great food and atmosphere. North Beach is also a favorite spot of mine for wedding receptions, the Italian food and authentic Pizza are fantastic! Check out Tony's Pizza and Original Joe's for down home Italian food! E Tutto Qua and Sotto Mare are also great places for authentic Italian food with both locations providing semi private space for small parties.
2. Amazing Ceremony Spots - Let's start with S.F. City Hall, this old historic building may well be one of the most popular locations to get married at in San Francisco. It's economical, beautiful, and has amazing architecture to appreciate while you recite your nuptials. On average, 35 people are married at City Hall every day! In addition to this famous landmark, you can also have your ceremony at The Palace of Fine Arts, Sea Cliff, Twin Peaks, The Legion of Honor, The Presidio, Golden Gate Park or San Francisco's Cliffhouse to name just a few. If you are looking for a religious ceremony, you also have many beautiful options. The city offers everything from 100+ year old churches to modern Cathedrals. Churches such as: Saint Mary's, Saint Dominic's, St. Ignatius, Grace Cathedral, Old Saint Mary's, and Saints Peter and Paul Church are just a few of the choices available. It is no surprise that "Baghdad by the Bay" is one of the foremost elopement destinations for couples from all over the world. Many couples also would rather have their engagement photos done in San Francisco and even at city hall! Land's End or The Golden Gate Bridge are also phenomenal backdrops for your marriage ceremony or engagement portrait session.
3. So many things to do in San Francisco! - SF is one of the top ranked vacation destinations in all the world (universe?). It offers all of the things a big city normally does, plus it has it's own unique small town charm. Many couples love to venture out to Fisherman's Wharf to grab a bite to eat or take a boat trip to Alcatraz. For entertainment, San Francisco has many full sized theaters offering major plays and Broadway shows. Check out the Curran, Orpheum or Golden Gate Theaters for some of the preeminent live entertainment available. If you are interested in history, SF has many old landmarks including City Hall, The Bank of California Building, Foreign Cinema, Mission Dolores, Saint Patrick's Church, and the Palace Hotel. Eloping couples visiting from other countries love to explore places like China Town, North Beach and Japan Center. Check out the Russian restaurants in the Richmond district for some amazing food. Take a walk around Telegraph Hill and explore Coit Tower or take a ride on a Cable Car. If you like sports, we have the San Francisco Giants, the 49ers and the Golden State Warriors. There is something here for everyone! One way to explore some of these spots is to book our "Golden Gate" or "San Francisco" wedding photography tour packages. These packages allow the couple to explore locations throughout the City after their town hall wedding. Now with new Chase Center operating, SF now becomes a top location for major concerts and events that need a large indoor arena. It is also the home of the Golden State Warriors basketball team!
4. Central Location - One of the uncommon things about the SF Bay Area is it's proximity to so many recreational and vacation locations. If you love the ocean, you are just minutes away from some stunning beaches including Baker Beach, Lands End, Stinson Beach, and Pacifica. Baker Beach in particular overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and is also one of our favorite wedding picture spots! A 3.5 hour drive puts you in Lake Tahoe where you can snow ski, gamble, fish, swim, water ski, or just enjoy the beauty of one of the world's largest lakes (ranked 28th by volume). One of the world's greatest wine countries, the Napa Valley, is less than an hour's drive and is home to some amazing places to eat and wine taste. If you love the Redwoods, two of the world's most famous groves are within driving distance from "The City by the Bay". The capital in Sacramento is just an hour away and offers historic "Old Town" and other interesting things to see and do including a Railway Museum. It is hard to beat Northern California for the diversity of leisure activities it offers. Am I leaving anything out? Definitely! It's all here in San Francisco.
5. Greatest California Climate - Yes, it is considered good luck to have it rain on your wedding day, but the truth is most people would prefer sunny weather. San Francisco is famous for it's fog, but in general the rain is predictable. It rarely rains in Northern California from June through October, offering you many options for your ceremony location and reception. The mild climate provides you with a perfect opportunity to receive beautiful wedding photos both inside and outdoors. Even if it is foggy, this can create a unique atmosphere for your wedding photos. We love taking our couples to the Golden Gate Bridge when it is partially covered by fog! For those of you curious about earthquake issues, city hall was extensively retrofitted following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. In fact, it has been said that this might be the safest SF building to be in during an earthquake because the whole foundation has been mounted on rubber. During the retrofit, they used hundreds of rubber and stainless-steel insulators to cushion the base. In the event of a major earthquake these insulators provide enough movement to cushion the shaking, but don't allow too much movement, which helps things stay together! Do not forget to hire a professional San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer!
Guide to SF City Hall Wedding Process
From the emails we receive, it became apparent that there exists considerable confusion regarding the wedding process from beginning to end at San Francisco City Hall. We thought it would be advantageous to provide a thorough wedding guide and also throw in a few brief recommendations to help you navigate the matrimonial process in this grand building. For an even more detailed step-by-step guide, please go to: How To Get Married at San Francisco City Hall.
Marriage License - This appointment is for obtaining the Marriage License within 6 months of your actual wedding. Your witness does not need to be there and the document is not signed(witnessed) at this time (except by the bride and groom). You will need your ID's and your right hand (to raise). Some brides and grooms request photography for this portion, but it is really not needed and your money could be better spent elsewhere. The main goal at this meeting is to make sure you bring the proper documentation which includes a legal form of current identification. The County Clerk will not allow you to get married or procure a marriage license with expired ID's. For more info about the process of getting started go to our guide for San Francisco city hall weddings. Update: The County Clerk's office no longer permits any type of photography or videography during the Marriage License meeting inside the room. We can still take photos out in the hallway by the Clerk's office.
Ceremony Check in - This occurs approximately 5-10 minutes before your scheduled wedding ceremony. You do not need your witness at this point either, nor do you need to bring your whole family into the County Clerk's office with you. Your witness should be waiting in the wings at this point in case your number is called quickly. This first meeting is purely to have the County Clerk check your documentation for completion and to give you a ceremony number. If you bring family and friends in at this point, they will likely be asked to leave. Your professional Courthouse wedding photographer will frequently accompany you in to the office to document this brief meeting. Note: Recently (December, 2019) professional photographers have been discouraged to enter the County Clerk to photograph the check-in process. We are still determining the rules on this, but for now we are staying out.
Officiant Meeting - When the County Clerk calls your number, it's time to go meet your city hall marriage commissioner. This occurs usually 10-15 minutes before the actual ceremony. The Deputy Marriage Commissioner will sit down with you and ask questions about your ceremony preferences. NOW is the time to make sure you bring in your witness! Again, no family and friends (unless they are serving as your witness), this is not the wedding. They have recently become much more strict about this and will sternly ask your guests to leave the office if they come in. We like to photograph this part of the wedding day because it helps document the importance of the event and it is also nice to have a photo of your witness signing the marriage license. We do this in an unobtrusive manner without leaning all over your witnesses. Many of our brides and grooms chose a person of significance to them in their lives like a grandparent to sign. Occasionally our eloping couples ask us to sign the marriage license and we are honored to do so and happy to oblige. There is no extra charge for this service.
Marriage License Signing - At the officiant meeting (see above) the marriage license is signed by your witness. This is probably the first photo-worthy event up to this point. Again, you do not need to bring your whole family in with you. If you do bring them in, they will be asked to leave in most cases. No video or flash photography is allowed during the license signing, but feel free to take pictures using the natural light. As mentioned, we can serve as your witness if needed. In reality, this part of your wedding day is what takes place at your scheduled ceremony time. The actual ceremony will take place a little later, usually in the Rotunda.
City Hall Marriage Ceremony - Once the marriage license has been signed, bring your family and friends to the Rotunda or private room to watch you get married. This is a good time to mention the fact that the ceremonies at city hall do not actually take place at the time you reserved. I think this is one of the big misunderstandings among couples and causes some frustration with their guests. In most cases, the ceremony will actually occur about 20 minutes after your scheduled time.
As mentioned elsewhere on this website, the County Clerks office is now enforcing the 6 person maximum guest regulation. Couples with more than 6 guests will have their nuptials moved to the private room. If you are within the 6 guest rule, then the likely place for your ceremony is the Great Rotunda. The Rotunda is located at the top of the Grand Staircase in the small enclosure between the elevators. City Hall marriage ceremonies generally take less than 5 minutes to perform. You can ask your officiant to provide you with a copy of the vows prior to your ceremony if that helps you with reciting them. There are no restrictions on where your guests can stand during your nuptials. Feel free to take your own pictures if you are a guest. The closer the better, just try not to completely block your city hall wedding photographers!
Why Hire a Professional Wedding Photographer?
With the advent of digital cameras more and more people are opting to have their friend, associate, or relative handle the photography at their wedding. Often the reasoning for making this decision is the promise of quality photos from "Uncle Bob" who has a really expensive camera and knows how to use it. The main goal, of course is to save money by not hiring a professional wedding photographer. But is this really what's important when it comes to choosing who will record your precious memories for prosperity? The answer is a very firm no. These days, virtually all modern digital cameras can beautifully capture sharp and well exposed images, but that isn't enough! Obviously, saving dollars is important, but are you willing to take the risks involved. We frequently see couples have their photos done with a guest's cell phone! Most importantly, remember that after the wedding all you have left are the pictures. Let's examine some of the more important reasons to hire the best San Francisco city hall wedding photographers.
- Posing the couple - The best city hall wedding photographers will have romantic ideas on how to pose the bride and groom. In addition, they will know the most advantageous angles and backgrounds to make the couple look amazing. We see many amateur wedding photographers taking pictures at city hall and although they are certainly obtaining quality images from a technical standpoint, it becomes pretty apparent that the posing and lighting are pretty basic.
- Professional Lighting - City Hall can be very tricky in terms of lighting. Some floors have light coming in from the ceiling which can cause horrendous shadows and "raccoon eyes". An accomplished professional will bring advanced lighting equipment to supplement the available light. The use of off-camera lighting can create dramatic images with great impact. the Mayor's Balcony often has terrible back-light making it almost impossible to create a good photograph without supplemental lighting. We see many people trying and failing to obtain good pictures with cell phones on the Mayors Balcony. Definitely a challenge!
- City Hall Crowd Control - One of the huge benefits of hiring a professional photographer with experience at city hall is taking advantage of their mastery of crowd patterns. There are certain times in the day where it is best to avoid places like the Grand Staircase. In addition, if it happens to be one of those days where an event is scheduled, your city hall photographer will know where to take you to avoid the crowds, but still provide you with breathtaking images. Extensive city hall wedding photography experience cannot be substituted for. We can also help manage the day when the County Clerks runs way late, allowing us to change the way we handle the procedures and still manage to get the same amount of pictures or even more!
- Help with your Big Day - Certain aspects of the marriage process at City Hall can be baffling. The check-in and marriage license procedures often throw couples off. Your professional wedding photographer is happy to walk you through the entire process. This will make your special day less stressful allowing you to have fun and not worry about the small details. Let your experienced professional wedding photographer do that for you.
- Technical Safety (back ups) - Ask your amateur photographer friend about their image file back-up system. Chances are they do not have one! If they are using a cell phone, it most certainly is not being backed up in a safe way. I personally have a triple back-up procedure for all of my image files and this includes off-site back-up which will protect you in case of fire. Most professional wedding photographers have a similar process. The last thing you want is for your wedding memories to be lost forever! Hard drives crash and USB drives can easily be lost, don't let this happen to you! We recently had a bride and groom tell us that their brother's amateur photographer acquaintance lost their wedding photos simply because he misplaced a Flash Drive! "It's in the house and he hopes to find it some day!"
- Yelp Wedding Reviews - With a pro photographer you can check to see how Yelp rates them. It is particularly important to actually read the various client reviews. 5 star ratings are great, but it is also vital to understand the style and history of the professional photographers you select. Yelp provides this type of information and much more. I would also take the time to read the wedding photographer's responses to both good and bad reviews. Their response will often tell you quite a bit about their personality and how they deal with customers.
- Wedding Photography Experience - Yes, I realize that this is sort of an obvious reason, but I wanted to explain some of the specifics. What I am really referring to here is SF City Hall experience. Namely, the ability to roll with the punches and barriers that often come our way. For example, we recently had a wedding interrupted by a fire alarm that caused the evacuation of the entire building. Despite some nervousness from the couple, we were able to keep calm and make sure that we got back in line to get married with minimal delay. Our unsurpassed knowledge of the entire marriage process helped us navigate this potentially difficult situation. In addition, our ability to handle the adjustments needed when city hall has a major event scheduled can be very beneficial to a couple who is unfamiliar with the building. We know about and will take you to alternative photography locations within city hall.
Best Day to Avoid Crowds at SF City Hall
Without a doubt the most common question we are asked is: "What is the best day of the week to get married at city hall to circumvent the crowds?" There are actually 2 parts to the answer because the time of the day also matters. Most people would assume that Friday is the most crowded and they would be correct. Fridays are the days with the largest amount of reserved ceremonies on the Mayor's Balcony and the 4th Floor North Gallery. Since reserved ceremonies do not have the 6 person restriction that the standard civil ceremonies have, it is not uncommon to see hundreds of people milling about on Fridays. Add summer tourists and you have a recipe for what we call "Crazy Friday." Thursday's are not much better, but definitely preferred over Friday because there seems to be less tourists. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the slowest days at city hall followed closely by Monday. Monday normally brings more business related visits to city hall and so there is a bit more foot traffic around the building. We will work with you and the crowds to provide you with the best memories captured on "film" possible. We don't let crowds get in our way and we know how to make the most of the space available!
As mentioned previously, the time of the day can be just as important as the day of the week. Peak times on most days are between 12:00 and 2:30 pm. If you can book the final ceremony of the day at 3:30 pm, City Hall will start to clear out once your ceremony is complete allowing you more private access to some of the most beautiful areas like the Grand Staircase and the North Gallery on the 4th floor. Early morning times also work well to avoid crowds. Again, be aware that later ceremonies can sometimes coincide with city hall events. When there is a special event in the building, they often start to close off the Grand Staircase around 4:00 pm. There are a number of factors that must be balanced in order to make a good decision on the best ceremony time and day of the week.
San Francisco City Hall Wedding Photography Lighting
People often ask us about the optimum time for the best photographic light in the building and it really depends on the circumstances. Because of the fog, the natural light is unpredictable, but we have found that no matter what the weather conditions, there are plenty of exceptional photo options at city hall. It is important to understand how the building changes under different lighting conditions. We always bring professional strobe lighting and umbrellas to refine and improve the quality of light when needed. When the sun is shining brightly outside, the 3rd and 4th floor offer some amazing natural light photographic opportunities. Of course we always have our professional external lighting equipment to help things along. We bring high-end off camera flash that helps create soft directional light and adds drama to your city hall photos. In addition, this type of lighting helps in some of the darker areas like the Mayor's Balcony.
San Francisco City Hall Wedding Tips - January, 2020
The Christmas season is over and it is Happy New Year time! January is traditionally our slowest month and thus the quietest at SF City Hall. So if you are looking to get married soon, you might want to consider doing it here. The weather is cold and the building can be a bit darker inside, so it is advisable to book middle of the day times. Also please remember that the days are shorter in January so if you want to book one of our San Francisco tours, you will need to have a starting time before 2:00 pm. You can ask us for details. It is getting dark before 6:00 pm this month so we need to keep that in mind when considering the package and starting time. In some cases we can do some of your wedding photography before your ceremony which will allow us more time after. This is a popular option during the winter months.
Artistic Beginnings - About Michael
I started photography at the age of 13 shortly after my father passed away and I inherited his Nikon professional camera. My mother, Laura Odegard is an accomplished SF Bay Area artist and her work inspired me to try to find my own creative talent. My mom, a true San Franciscan, was painting Victorian homes in the 1960's during the "Hippie" era in our Haight/Ashbury neighborhood. Looking back at all the art books I scribbled in (and ruined) as a child, I remember how disappointed I was that I couldn't draw like her. Obtaining my dad's camera was just the thing to help me find my artistic outlet. He was such a gifted photographer and I thought to myself that this is something I can do! Right away I started taking photos of everything around me including people. Of course many of the photos were photojournalistic in nature, but I later started learning more about professional posing and how to make my subjects look their best. I frequently look back at those portraits I took way back then and realize how far I have come, but also how much fun I had back then.
Then in elementary school I made a good friend named John Pugh who eventually became a very famous mural artist. From an artistic standpoint, John did everything well. He could draw, paint, and he was adept with a camera. He introduced me to the idea of photography as art and not just a fun way to record events. I remember going over to his house one morning and he showed me his black and white photography darkroom. Once I saw the magic that occurred in that room, I was hooked for life! I immediately tore our garage apart and built my own professional photography darkroom. I purchased Beseler 23c Enlarger, the chemicals and trays and began printing my own photographs. I used the skills I learned in the Darkroom to help put myself through college. I was a professional photographer for the Sports Information Department at USF and the Photo Editor for the school newspaper, "The Foghorn". Both positions were paid and both required Darkroom work. I had always wanted to run my own business so instead of majoring in photography I decided to become a Business Major at the University of San Francisco. Towards the end of my education at USF, one of the couples who lived in the dorms asked me to photograph their wedding. This was the start of my long career in wedding photography. The combination of business background and hands-on photography experience served me well as I opening my own studio. I would strongly recommend to any aspiring professional wedding photographer to consider majoring in Business and not in photography. You can learn all about photography by reading books and attending workshops. Working for other photographers is also a great way to learn the craft. Many well established pro wedding photographers will allow you to assist them at events while working as an intern allowing you first hand experience in the craft.
There was always something about portrait and wedding photography that particularly inspired me. Like any good photographer, I enjoyed taking vacation scenery landscape photos, but I was always more drawn to photographs of human subjects. Through High School and College, I asked girlfriends to model for me so I could practice my portrait taking craft. This constant practice assisted me in becoming a better picture taker, especially portrait work. Why did I choose wedding photography instead of many of the other areas I could have pursued? People always seem to be happy at weddings and even though there is some stress involved, it is easily overshadowed by the joy felt by everyone involved on this special day. I love being an integral part of it! To review more details about your wedding photographers, Michael and Toni, please go to our "About the wedding photographers" page.
201 Spear Street, Suite 1100
San Francisco, CA 94105