We worked with a great couple last week and I wanted to talk about it while it was fresh in my mind. Yuan and Tracy chose our Golden Gate package which provided them with 1 additional San Francisco photography location after we finished at City Hall. They choose to go to the Legion of Honor and we drove them there. One of the things I offer couples who choose this location is the chance to take a quick photo of the Golden Gate bridge in addition to the Legion. This is because it so close by and easy to access. We often take couples to the 17th hole at Lincoln Park golf course to get the bridge picture, but this time we went to Lands End. What a great place to get a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge! Also present at Lands End are nice walking trails and beautiful tall trees.
City Hall Photography Tour
Before we embarked upon our journey to the Legion of Honor we of course needed to complete our wedding photography tour at San Francisco City Hall. It was very important to Yuan and Tracy to get a shot of their entire wedding party in front of City Hall’s famed Grand Staircase. Fortunately, they booked a later ceremony (3:00 pm) and thus city hall was starting to clear out shortly after we were ready to start their professional wedding photography. After completing some smaller family combinations, we took everyone down to the bottom of the Staircase including the Bride and Groom. We managed to have some moments where the staircase became relatively clear of tourists and other weddings allowing us to get a clear shot! See below to check out their image
Once we got this all important photo, we took the couple around the building to take more formal wedding photography. The shot below was done in the 2nd floor hallway. We always like to do some fun shots with our brides and grooms to get them warmed up. We also wanted to figure out if they were interested in doing some more fun photos or preferred to keep it more simple. We always allow our clients to let us know the style of wedding photography they want.
The package that Yuan and Tracy choose provided them with 2.5 hours of coverage with that extra location already discussed above. Once we completed their wedding photography we took them to the San Francisco location of the reception, Jardiniere.
I have been photographing city hall weddings now for over 8 years with 350 weddings under my belt (Check out my City Hall Home Page for more information). I have made friends with many of the other City Hall wedding photographers and have tons of respect for them. We often talk in the cafe and exchange ideas and problems before or after our weddings. I find that I learn a lot from having these types of discussions with my fellow wedding photographers and have started to form some strong opinions about what makes a particular San Francisco City Hall wedding photographer the best! I will share some of these thoughts below:
Friendly Service is Super Important! As I have discussions with the best SF city hall wedding photographers I find one common denominator among them…. They are all nice people! Fun to be around and upbeat. Reading their Yelp reviews reveals that many of their clients take the time to talk about their demeanor and friendliness and not just the quality of the wedding photography. Another often discussed aspect of this attribute is that it actually results in better pictures. I believe the reason for this is that the bride and groom feel more at ease with the photographer and thus display their more natural side.
Expensive Equipment Barely Matters. I have seen wedding photographers at SF city hall use all types of camera equipment. They range from super expensive all the way down to cheaper consumer level cameras. I honestly see no correlation between the amount of money a photographer spends on their camera and the quality of the pictures. However, it IS important to have proper lighting equipment including an off-camera flash. But even this does not have to be expensive to get the job done. The bottom line is that with today’s technology even the most basic cameras take amazing photos. The different in quality of the end product has much more to do with the wedding photographer.
City Hall Experience is huge! There is no doubt in my mind that the best wedding photographers at San Francisco City Hall are mainly the most experienced. The lighting in the building is super tricky and can changes in a matter of minutes as the fog rolls in and out. More important are the curves that city hall will often throw Brides and Grooms. Special Events, closing down of certain areas, protest marches and unexpected arrivals of a huge tour bus are just some of the things we all have to deal with at city hall on a daily basis. The more experienced professional wedding photographer know how to make adjustments on the fly no matter what the current circumstances are. You have to know alternative beautiful spots and ways to get around area closures. We have learned these things over the years and are still learning new tricks to this day!
The Best City Hall Wedding Photographers help their clients with every aspect of the event! We take a lot of pride in helping our brides and grooms deal with the somewhat confusing process of getting married at San Francisco City Hall. We offer many pointers on our website and try to act as a guide when it comes to check-in time at the County Clerks office. We see this with many of the other experienced professional wedding photographers at city hall also!
September is underway in San Francisco and it is one of the most beautiful times of the year. San Francisco residents tend to call the time period between early September and mid October “Indian Summer”. I will skip the technical explanation of why the fog is so thick during the summer and starts to gradually go away in September, but for those interested check out this link about San Francisco Weather . The most important thing to know is that September is a great month to explore the city and head to the beaches. If you happen to be getting married at San Francisco City Hall or anywhere else in the city for that matter, you owe it yourself to have your wedding photographer take some outside pictures. For those couples who were worried about trying to visit the Golden Gate Bridge during the summer, feat not! By mid month, there will be very little fog along the coast and the bridge will be as bright and beautiful as ever! Fall winds will make the air super clear also, leading to some amazing photo opportunities.
September Photo Opportunities in San Francisco
Everyone always thinks about the Golden Gate Bridge, but what other great locations become more visible in September minus the fog? Here is a list of recommendations for places in San Francisco to visit in the fall months:
Baker Beach – We tend to avoid Baker Beach during the summer because of the fog. It is the most risky place to take our brides and groom that time of the year because the view is from the Ocean looking in. Since the fog tends to roll in from the water, the bridge is often covered from that angle, but still visible from the Bay side. But in September with the fog mostly gone, The Golden Gate bridge can look spectacular from Baker Beach.
The Marin Headlands – This view is actually not in San Francisco, but it is a quick trip across the Golden Gate bridge and just like Baker Beach, is on the ocean side. Here are some photo examples of this angle to the Bridge along with others: Favorite Places for Golden Gate Bridge Gazing
Lands End – This is one of my new favorite places to look at the bridge. It includes a nice short hiking trail and some amazing scenery. For more information regarding this spectacular view point, click the Lands End Link provided.
To summarize, September is an amazing month to be in San Francisco! Take advantage of this great time and explore this beautiful city.
The city hall website specifically states that the maximum number of guests allowed at standard civil ceremonies is 6. The rules go on to explain that if you DO bring more than 6, city hall reserves the right to have them removed from the building. The rules also talk about your guests being a nuisance and disrupting city hall business. Everyone seems to know that this rule is not enforced so people often bring large numbers of guests to city hall weddings. I recently photographed a wedding where the couple brought close to 30 guests including bridesmaids and groomsmen. The guest were loud and didn’t really care about anyone else including the other weddings going on. In fact, they had a guy who played a trumpet when the couple came out of the clerk’s office.
So the question is, should you as an engaged couple violate the rules and invite anyone you want and as many people as you want? My opinion is that couples getting married at San Francisco city hall should, at the very least, respect the spirit behind the rule. So if you are going to go over the 6 guests, don’t go way over. Talk to your guests about not being disruptive and make sure they understand that others are getting married at the same time. If every couple brought 25 guests the place would be a mad house. The rules are there for a reason, to try to keep the environment safe and quiet.
Reserved Ceremony Option
So what do you do if you have a large crowd but still want to get married at SF City Hall? Contact the Events Department and talk to them about reserving a space to have your city hall ceremony. It only costs around $1,000 and you get to have all nice section of city hall all to yourself. They even give you 2 choices. You can have your nuptials on the Mayors Balcony or The 4th Floor North Gallery. Both locations are exceptionally beautiful and provides plenty of room for the couple and their guests. You can seat up to 60 people on the 4th floor and up to 40 at the Mayors Balcony. If you bring more guests than those numbers, the remaining guests can stand. They also rope of the area to keep others out which provides your wedding a certain amount of privacy.
Keep in mind these types of options before you decide to bring your whole family and friends to a small civil ceremony. It will make your special day more enjoyable for you and your guests!
There are quite a few things to consider when bring your children to your San Francisco city hall wedding. If they are still a baby you may want to make sure that you schedule your wedding to work around their nap time. The last thing you want is to have the ceremony occur right during their most grumpy time. Make sure that you bring another adult or older sibling who can watch and entertain the baby if needed. The preference would be to choose someone who can miss the ceremony in case the baby is crying. If a family member is watching the baby they may be inclined to stick around during the ceremony which can be quite disruptive.
Involve Them in the Wedding Photos
Children seeing one of their parents getting remarried can experience some jealousy and fear. It can be a big change in their life and they are liable to wonder how they fit in to the new family. One thing you can do is to make sure to involve them significantly in the wedding photography portion of the day. Include them in as many pictures as you can to make them understand that they are important and involved in the the couple’s new life together. If possible, you may even want to try to include them in the actual city hall wedding ceremony somehow. Maybe they can hold the wedding rings or the flowers. Just don’t have them be a bystander like everyone else. This is your chance to make them feel special.
Realize their Limitations
Even though we strongly recommend getting the little ones involved on your San Francisco city hall wedding day, it’s also important to understand that they will be tired at some point. Make it part of your plan to have someone take the really small children home before they burn out. You know your kids better than anyone and so you should be able to figure out when they are going to be ready to leave. It is very important that you have someone who knows them well and can take care of them when needed. Yes, you want to make sure your kids are involved and happy, but you also need to realize that your wedding day is about the 2 of you! Make sure to set some time aside for you both!
I am going going to go out on a limb here and guess that you have rarely read one wedding photographer recommending another unless they were personally booked for your wedding date. That is about to change….
City Hall Wedding Photography by Michael has been shooting weddings for many years and we have discovered that it is more important to make sure the couple finds the right photographer for them rather than trying to gobble up all of the business we can. If after talking to the bride and groom and assessing the type of photographic styles they prefer it turns out we are not a match, we will tell them. I would say something like: “I am not sure we are the best city hall wedding photographer for you.” Why do we do this? We have plenty of business and would rather see the engaged couple work with an appropriately styled photographer for them. One that matches their preference and vision for their wedding.
Versatile Wedding Photographer
So the obvious question becomes: “Arn’t you versatile enough to adjust your style or demeanor to match your client?” The answer to this question is, yes we are are. However, if we sense that we are way off and have to completely change the way we approach your city hall wedding, then it is not fair to the bride and groom to mislead them. More importantly, there are quite few professional city hall wedding photographers out there that who probably will fit what you are looking for. After 10 years of city hall wedding photography we have met many of the top photographers and have come to respect and enjoy them. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them and often do. We also receive numerous referrals from them as well.
San Francisco City Hall
In conclusion I would just tell you that the most important thing is that you hire a professional wedding photographer. You have heard us say this before, but San Francisco City Hall, despite all it’s beauty, remains a challenging photographic venue. Even for professionals it remains a lighting challenge. Crowd control can also be difficult. Obviously, we would love it if you tried us first. If we don’t think we are a match, we will tell you so and suggest a city hall wedding photographer who is!
We had a very busy June at San Francisco City Hall. We photographed 12 weddings of different cultures and from other countries. It was an especially fun group of couples with all kinds of diversity and various nationalities. 6 of our weddings were Same-Sex. The most we have ever photographed in a single month. Some of these weddings wanted a very short coverage, just staying with the confines of San Francisco city hall. Others opted for the full treatment and so we took them all over San Francisco on one of our popular photo tours. We drove them around in our car and it became more than just a photo shoot…. We got out and enjoyed the beauty of the City by the Bay! For the most part we got pretty lucky with the weather. San Francisco can be very foggy in June, but we really only had one wedding where we had to make a slight change of plans because of the fog. We often try to take out newly married couples to Fort Point when it is really foggy because the bridge is so close. But this time even that didn’t work, we were practically under the Golden Gate Bridge but we still could not see it. So we just took our couple to the Palace of Fine Art instead and got some great images there!
Extended Wedding Photography
In addition to the many same-sex weddings, we also had some very long coverage city hall weddings in June. Many of our clients ask us to take some pictures at their wedding celebration after the ceremony. When it comes to San Francisco City Hall, we rarely do what would be considered a full scale wedding reception, but it is usually at a nice place to eat in the city. We are more than happy to accompany you to your party and get some nice candid images of cake cutting, toasts, and dancing. Whatever your celebration involves we will cover it and provide you with plenty of detail shots. Our extensive experience with full scale wedding helps us in this regard. We have photographed over 1,300 weddings in our long career. Dealing with every possible situation has given us some great experience which we are happy to share with our clients.
What makes each wedding photographer different? There are many answers to this question and most of them revolve around Picture Quality, Style and Pricing. Different clients are attracted to various styles and certain prices depending upon their budget. Overall picture quality is hard to rank because it is so subjective. Each engaged couple may like something different depending upon their individual tastes and background. Obviously there are all kinds of budgets out there. Some people have tons of money to spend on their wedding and others don’t even want to pay for a professional wedding photographer. We see people at San Francisco city hall all the time with friends taking pictures using cell phones! Again, there are many different opinions, finances and style preferences. However, the one thing that everyone seems to like is a courteous, friendly and fun city hall wedding photographer.
Wedding Photography with a Smile
Ever notice how much easier it is to smile for the camera when the person taking the photo is smiling too? Try it sometime. Take a photo of a friend or loved one and scowl at them or just act serious while asking them to smile. Take some pictures and store them for future comparisons. Now, take pictures a couple days later of the same friends or relatives, but this time when you take the picture and ask them to smile, be sure to be beaming yourself! Save those pictures also and the compare the results. What will you see? The subjects in the second set of pictures with the smiling photographer will have more natural smiles and be more at ease. The first group with the frowning photographer will also be displaying smiles. But look closely and you will a difference. More strain and stress, but mostly more fake. This especially works well if you know your subjects well and can easily identify when this friend or relative is faking it.
This is how we run our San Francisco City Hall wedding photography service. We do everything we can to maintain a friendly environment and remain upbeat. But most of all, WE SMILE during the photos. Try it sometime, it works!!
Everyone wants photos of the Grand Staircase at San Francisco City Hall. It is the central theme in this amazing building and so consequently every bride and groom wants their photo taken there. Obviously this presents a massive problem….. Not only do all 35 couples who get marred at city hall on a daily basis want there photo on the Grand Staircase, but the tourists love to hang out on the stairs and take their own photos. It can be a huge challenge especially on Fridays to get a nice image with the Staircase not completely covered by other people. So how do we as San Francisco city hall wedding photographers, handle this problem?
Timing is Everything at City Hall
We have quite a few different techniques for getting the important Grand Staircase wedding photo. Our most effective way of handling this is to just keep our eyes on the staircase as we take our brides and grooms around the building. If we suddenly see the staircase clear of people, we change our pattern and head straight down to it as soon as we can. Many times when we do this, the staircase is already loaded with people again by the time we get there. Mostly, though this technique works great. We have discovered over the years that people tend to walk around city hall in large groups so when one group descends on the Grand Staircase another smaller group may go in a different direction. The idea is to be ready when the small group is nearby and the large group has left. You can see from our photos that we are quite successful getting this shot at our various weddings
The image above was taken at a time which also illustrates the importance of timing at city hall. We set this image up at around 5:30 pm and it was our final shot of the day. The other technique for getting the Grand Staircase shot is doing it very late in the day after people leave. So this teaches us that if the staircase shot is very important to you, book your wedding late in the day. The last ceremony time is 3:30. Book that one and by the time you get married and we complete our city hall photo tour it will probably be around 5:00 pm. A very good time to take photos of the staircase with less people around!
We always talk about how great San Francisco City Hall is for weddings and of course Wedding Photography. There are so many iconic locations to shoot here, most notably the Grand Staircase, Rotunda and Mayor’s Balcony. Wonderful backgrounds for wedding photography with amazing early 1900’s architecture. However, were you aware that there are times that you will arrive at city hall to get married and some or all of these places are not available and roped off? This is the big secret that The County Clerks office never tells you when you sign up to have your ceremony at city hall. Brides and grooms are frequently surprised when they learn that the most beautiful background in San Francisco is unavailable on their wedding day. Why? Because an event has been scheduled at the same time as your wedding!
San Francisco Events
San Francisco just happens to be one of the favorite places on the West Coast for companies to schedule their special events. In addition, local entities such as the Opera House, The Symphony and even Google love to have their events in San Francisco. Guess what is one of the most popular event locations for elegant events? Yes, San Francisco city hall! There have been times that we as wedding photographers have walked into the building ready to shoot a wedding only to see hundreds of people milling about wearing fancy clothes. Half of the building can be closed off and they provide you a narrow path through the mess to get to the Clerk’s office to have your ceremony. The fact is, SF City Hall does not guarantee you access to the whole building when you reserve your ceremony time. The only thing they promise you is that you will have a legal marriage. Nothing else is promised, but of course full access is implied. So what does a bride and groom do to avoid this happening to them?
Scheduling is Everything
Through the years I have attempted to find a good web page that is kept up to date and lists city hall events in San Francisco. I have never found one that is actually updated. Most are just blank pages and some show past events. Thus, the only thing an engaged couple can do is try avoid scheduling their wedding on the prime event days and times.
Days and Times to Avoid Booking
Fridays should be avoided, but if you have to, make sure it is early morning only. The Staircase can often be closed all day or they start setting up late in the afternoon. The building hosts music and some form of entertainment almost every Friday at Noon.
Thursdays, especially after 3 pm. This day of the week is also quite popular for events. Sometimes if San Francisco city hall is going to have an all day event on Friday, they will start the set up late on Thursday.
In general, any day of the week after 3 pm . Even though it is rare, there are events early in the week. If city hall schedules them, it will most likely be in the evening or late afternoon.
The tough part of all of this is that the late afternoon times are some of the best for wedding photography and no crowds. So we often recommend that people book the last ceremony of the day because city hall starts to become less crowded late in the afternoon. For me, the best times and days of the week overall are Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. There is a small risk of an event, but overall the experience is usually good on these days late.