San Francisco City Hall Wedding Photographer
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How We Photograph Your SF City Hall Wedding Ceremony

This is one of those subjects that probably does not get discussed enough on wedding photography websites. The way that your San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer handles your ceremony can make or break that part of the day. The obvious dilemma for any wedding photographer is trying to balance obtaining great photos during the ceremony, but at the same time not being overly obtrusive. I've seen some City Hall wedding photographers actually stick their camera right in between the bride and groom during the ring exchange in order to get a close-up shot. With the camera equipment we have today this is an unnecessary intrusion and really doesn't result in better results. The same shot could have been captured from far away with the proper lenses. Here are some other great suggestions for photographers to follow during wedding ceremonies. So let's discuss some of the challenges and solutions to obtain great ceremony pictures without getting in the way.

Civil Ceremony exchange of vows at SF City Hall

Possessing appropriate camera equipment is important

If you are professional San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer this should be obvious. However I frequently see other wedding photographers getting too close to the ceremony and blocking the view of the guests and family. This should never happen and we certainly never do that. To me, the obvious solution is to use a zoom lens for the ceremony. I realize that many professionals feel that a zoom lens may not capture the ceremony with the same quality as a prime lens would. I would argue that this is no longer the case. With the new technology available to all professional photographers today, zoom lenses come very close to the quality of the best prime lenses. There are so many great options available for great professional wedding photography equipment so there is really no excuse. When I photograph a City Hall Civil ceremony I can stand to the back and out of other people's way and still capture nice close-up shots with my zoom lens. I can also obtain wide view shots which show not only the ceremony, but all the people that are watching. This will provide the bride and groom with some nice images that show the emotions of the guest watching the ceremony.

Happy Brides walking down the Aisle after Civil Ceremony

The Photographer Should Never Block the View of The Guests

To expand on the discussion above, I strongly feel that the wedding photographer should never stand in the way of the guests. Whether or not they are using a zoom lens or a telephoto lens, a good photographer stays out of the way. For large weddings, I position myself at the front of the aisle on the opposite side of where the groom is watching the bride walk-in. I'm not in the guest's way nor am I blocking the groom from seeing his bride walk in. Believe it or not, I have actually seen a professional wedding photographer stand between the groom and the bride As she walks in. It was almost comical to see the groom trying to peek around this tall wedding photographer to see his beautiful bride for the first time. Here is another article on this website that discusses weddings from the photographer's standpoint.

Once the ceremony starts, I move to the back of the aisle and capture most of my pictures from that vantage point. I may also move from side to side but always behind the guests not in front. I also bring a step stool so if I have to get higher to see over someone I can do that as well. Occasionally, I will cover a wedding with a professional videographer and that can sometimes complicate this process. I usually ask the videographer to not stand too close to the couple because if they do, it's impossible for me to avoid them. I don't really care where they stand even if it's in my way, because I can always move from one side to the other. But if they place themselves IN the picture there's not much I can do. I can honestly say that the vast majority of videographers are very cooperative and just want to work together to create the best coverage for the happy couple. This is rarely a problem.

SF City Hall Wedding Guests with Cell Phones

Over the past 10 years, virtually everyone has acquired a smart phone camera. The majority of these cell phones take great pictures and record above average video. The obvious problem with this is that everybody wants to photograph or videotape the wedding. I have photographed weddings where literally every single guest has held their cell phone up for the entire ceremony. Sometimes these overzealous amateur photographers stand on the opposite side of the couple from me, which of course means they are in all of my pictures. The end result is ceremony pictures with cell phones coming out of the bride and groom's heads. I personally do allow cell phone pictures during the weddings that I cover. However it doesn't mean I think it's a great idea.

There has been a recent trend in weddings for the couple to put up a sign saying that they want their wedding to be "unplugged". On the sign, they ask their guests to just enjoy the wedding and let the professional photographers and videographers record the event. Obviously, I fully support this idea and really think it makes for a better final result for everyone involved. Using a sign might not be appropriate for City Hall weddings, but in this case you can ask the officiant to announce it before the ceremony. There are actually a couple SF City Hall wedding commissioners that do this anyway out of respect for the couple and the professional wedding photographer.

Your Guests Will Enjoy Your Civil Ceremony More

Without their amateur photography duties to worry about, your guests will be fully present at the wedding and can really enjoy the ceremony instead of watching it through their cell phones. I have seen many guests fiddling with their phones trying to get them to work instead of watching this one time marriage event. City Hall Civil ceremonies are specially short and if you're not fully paying attention you'll miss most of it. This cell phone restriction works fine if the bride and groom requests it. I know that if I was the one to request it I would end up being the bad guy and so I don't do it. However I do at least tell the picture taking guests to try not to be in my frame when they're using their cell phones. I let them know that if they can see me in their cell phones then I can definitely see them in my camera.

First Kiss wedding photography at San Francisco city hall ceremony

Should the City Hall Wedding Photographer Intervene?

For me the answer to this question is a very strong no. I have had wedding coordinators ask me how I want the couples to walk in during this procession. I've also been told that as each participant walks in they're going to pause for a picture before they come in. My answer to this is always the same. I don't want anything during the ceremony to be changed for the purpose of wedding photography. This is true for my big weekend weddings and also City Hall weddings. If I want to do a posed picture of each participant I can do that later after the ceremony. I would much prefer the ceremony pictures look more natural and not staged. There's one church in the Bay Area that insists on having every wedding party participant pause halfway down the aisle for a picture. Despite my polite request to not have them do this, it happens anyway. In fact, the participants are told by the wedding coordinator to not move until they see me take the picture. So I devised a rather funny way of getting around this. As soon as the participant freeze in the aisle, I would just push the button on the back of my flash unit to make it go off. Then once the couple sees the flash they start walking again. This allows me to focus on the shot I really want and not the fake staged shot that the coordinator wants.

The point I'm trying to make with all this is that once the ceremony starts I keep myself out of it. I just record what's in front of me the best I can. For this reason, my wedding ceremony pictures will look much more natural and I'll catch more emotional moments and fun shots. Besides, wedding participants have enough to worry about without having the wedding photographer telling them things to do during the ceremony.