Engagement Portraits City Hall Wedding

Many of our San Francisco City Hall wedding couples like us to photograph a formal engagement session prior to their marriage.  We can make a package for any couple that includes a San Francisco engagement session at any of the popular city locations.  Our most popular location continues to be The Palace of Fine Arts, but there are many others.  We take our couples to Russian  Hill, North Beach and the Legion of Honor to name just  few.  Believe it or not, we even sometimes do our sessions at San Francisco City Hall!

Engagement Session in Marin County

Our most recent engagement shoot occurred in Marin County at Cavallo Point close to Sausalito.  This was a fantastic location for the session especially with it’s unique angles to the Golden Gate bridge and the view of San Francisco.  In the image below, we placed our future bride and groom on  the Break Water with the bridge in the background.  It was about 1 hour before sunset when we set this up.

Golden Gate Bridge from Cavallo Point

Golden Gate Bridge from Cavallo Point

From this angle we found a great looking cliff that was right up against the San Francisco Bay.  We placed our couple up on the cliff and took a series of images of them with a few different suggested poses.

Engagement portrait session overlooking San Francisco
Engagement portrait session overlooking San Francisco

We finished up our shoot in the bar at the Cavallo Point Lodge.  A very cute bar and one of our couple’s favorites. It turned out that this bar was one of their favorite stopping points over the past few years.  So what a great place to finish up the session.   We look forward to photographing their San Francisco City Hall wedding in May of 2018.  To see more images of city hall weddings and engagement sessions click on our City Hall Gallery Link

Cavallo Point Lodge bar
Cavallo Point Lodge bar

 

City Hall Weddings are Affordable

Great Wedding Value

San Francisco City Hall Weddings are a great value!  Where else can you have access to an amazingly beautiful Wedding Venue for under $100?  Yes, it is true!  It only costs $83 to have your wedding in the Rotunda area in city hall and the County Clerk even provides a free Wedding Officiant to perform your ceremony.  They call these officiants Deputy Marriage Commissioners and they dress up in robes and look like judges.  The fact that they are all volunteers is unknown to many, but it is part of the reason that you can get married in this building for such a great price.  Many of the other venues available throughout San Francisco can cost thousands of dollars and still do not match the beauty of City Hall.  The obvious downside of City Hall weddings is that you have to share the building with the general public, but even this is not such a terrible thing.  In this wedding photographer’s opinion, it can be part of the fun.  The only problem comes when City Hall schedules a special event on your wedding day.  This is rare and the building is so large, you can go to other places and still have a nice wedding ceremony even if a large event is set for your day.

Convenient Wedding Receptions

A big part of the expense of any San Francisco wedding is the reception.   When you book a wedding you generally need a venue that can supply you with both a place to get married and also somewhere to eat.  The exception to this is if you get married in a church.  Obviously, if you are planning on a church wedding, this article doesn’t apply.   What many of our City Hall clients like to do is schedule their city hall nuptials in the Rotunda and then book us for wedding photography after.  Meanwhile, their guests gather at one of the many nearby restaurants that specialize in city hall wedding receptions.   There are many fantastic  places to celebrate and all our walking distance away from San Francisco city hall.  We have mentioned these eateries in other blog posts, please refer to Places to Eat Near City Hall for more details.

Inexpensive City Hall Wedding Photography

This is one of the key features of city hall wedding affordability.  One of the major expenses of any wedding is the professional wedding photographer.  The best photographers in San Francisco can run anywhere from $2,000 up to $6,000 for full wedding coverage.  These same wedding photographers offer their services to City Hall brides and groom for a fraction of this cost.  Many San Francisco City Hall photographers have discount pricing that starts at $500.  Yes, you are only getting them for an hour or 2, but that is really all you need.  The most experienced professionals will take you on a tour of the building and follow that up with the chance to be driven around  San Francisco for more photos.   A fantastic opportunity to work with some of the most accomplished wedding photographers in the Bay Area at this very picturesque venue!

Here are a few samples of the types of photos you can get at this amazing venue.

North Gallery Dance Dip Image

North Gallery Dance Dip Image

City Hall Grand Staircase Image

Best City Hall Wedding Photography

What are some of the best ways to approach City Hall wedding photography?

  1. Challenging Lighting. One of the trickiest things about taking pictures at San Francisco city hall is the lighting.  Depending upon where you are in the building the lighting can either be amazing or extremely tough to deal with.  For example, the Mayor’s Balcony is difficult because just about any angle shooting away from the balcony towards the rotunda involves heavy back lighting.  The Mayor’s Balcony is not only fairly dark, but everything around it is bathed in natural light.  We often see amateur wedding photographers attempting to shoot their subjects by the railing with out any lighting and ultimately they will mostly just get silhouette images or blown out backgrounds.  Another challenging place to shoot is in the Rotunda area where the city hall ceremonies occur.  The predominate light in this area is from overhead.  So if you shoot in almost any direction your subjects will have “raccoon eyes”.  If you are taking pictures in the Rotunda, position yourself with your back to the Mayor’s Balcony and you will get some nice light.  If you have flash, use it!
  2. Crowd Control.  We jokingly refer to this as crowd control but there is some truth to this city hall wedding photography challenge.  The fact is that San Francisco city hall is a public building.  Every single person in the building has the same right to be there as you.   Yes, even if you are getting married!  The best way to handle this simply is to go where people aren’t.  It sounds simple, but virtually every non-professional wedding photographer we see ignores this advice.  They spend the whole photography session on the Grand Staircase as though this was the only place in all of city hall for wedding photography.  The fact is, there are 4 floors that ALL have great backgrounds and architecture to explore.    As you take your couple around the building, keep your eye on the Staircase so when it clears off, you can run down and get some pictures.  Meanwhile, you might find that there are some very nice other locations to photograph.
  3. Leave the Family Behind. We often see amateur city hall wedding photographers taking their whole wedding party around the building with them when shooting the bride and groom.  This is not a good idea for several reasons.  Most importantly, it will make your couple inhibited as they pose for their city hall wedding pictures with an audience. Inevitably, some of the relatives with shout out suggestions and make comments.  This is distracting to the photographer and the subject.  The other issue is that the family and friends will get in the way of your backgrounds.  You will spend more time trying to move the group then actually posing the couple.  Ask the Wedding Party to either wait in the Mint Cafe or just in a neutral area somewhere.  It will make your city hall wedding photography session go much smoother.
  4. Timing is Everything.   I understand that not everyone can control the timing of their San Francisco city hall wedding photography session.  There are many factors that get in the way, most importantly the time of the wedding ceremony.  Also many couples are restricted because of work schedules and can not choose the best days of the week.  However, if some of these things ARE in your control, then by all means choose the best times of the day and best days of the week.  Avoid Fridays if possible because of extreme city hall crowds.   Tuesdays and Wednesdays seem to be the best days of the week for less people.  If you have control of your booking time, then try for early times or late.  There will be less people and especially tourists at those times.

Best Wedding Florists in San Francisco

We constantly are asked before our San Francisco city hall wedding photography bookings to suggest great local florists.  Although there are none that we work with exclusively, we can give you some of the more popular names that our brides have used in the past.

  • Rose Bowl Florist is by far one of the most frequently used wedding florist close to San Francisco City Hall.  Probably the main reason for this is just that, their proximity to SF city hall.  In fact, they were walking distance away.  We have seen nothing but great reviews for this company including on their Yelp page.  We can recommend this florist without hesitation.
  • Bella Fiora is another very well known local wedding florist.  They are not as close as Rose Bowl, but do an exceptional job.  Their proximity to San Francisco’s famed Nob Hill makes them a little more pricey, but with great quality.  Another shop with great Yelp reviews and quite popular with city hall brides.
  • The Floral Loft is not a florist that we have personal experience with, but we have heard good things.  They are located fairly close to city hall and have incredible Yelp Reviews with over 85 experiences documented.  Even though we cannot personally recommend them, the writing seems to be on the wall for this fine San Francisco Florist.
  • Nob Hill Florist is another San Francisco Wedding florist that we are not sure that we have personal experience with.  It definitely seems like we have had brides tell us about this company though!  Again, just looking at their Yelp page I see a couple of things.  First of all, they have nothing but 5 star reviews which is pretty incredible.  Also important is the fact that as you go through the reviews, you see many pictures of city hall weddings featured.  Not sure about the pricing on this company, but they are definitely worth checking out!

Wedding Photography at City Hall with Flowers

One of the reasons we are providing this information is that it kinds of goes along with our very strong recommendation that all brides have a bouquet for their city hall wedding.  Despite San Francisco city hall’s amazing beauty there is one small flaw – not much color.  The walls and floors are either white or gray.   Beautiful architecture for sure, but very neutral colors.  We have found that the perfect thing to set off these gorgeous backgrounds is a splash of color that is provided by a nice bouquet.  It also gives the bride something to do with her hands!

Past Favorite City Hall Weddings

I thought it would be fun to do an ongoing series on some of our favorite past weddings and couples.  We have had so many great experiences in our 300 plus San Francisco city hall weddings that it is really hard to focus on just a few, but some do stand out due to the fun time we had.  We will feature 2 weddings with each blog post.

Tracy and James – City Hall 2013

This couple was one among our first 10 San Francisco city hall weddings and was really one of our best to that point.  We were just starting to learn some of the secrets to finding the best spots at city hall and what time of the day to shoot at particular locations.  Tracey especially was up for anything and wanted to try lots of new poses and ideas.  We did extreme dip poses,  Window shots and some new Grand Staircase ideas.  A bonus for this wedding is that Tracy submitted some of our shots to the J. Crew catolog and got our wedding featured on that publication for a few years.  Here are a few shots from this great wedding.

Deep Dance Dip Post at City Hall
Deep Dance Dip Post at City Hall
San Francisco window image at city hall
San Francisco window image
Leg Kick on the Mayors Balcony
Leg Kick on the Mayors Balcony

April and Michael –  City Hall 2014

This wedding was one of our first marriages where the couple asked us to provide them with extensive yet affordable wedding photography coverage that also included taking pictures at their Reception.   We provided  April and Michael with a special package that included full city hall wedding coverage and 3 locations around San Francisco.  We finished up in Downtown SF at their reception site.  Throughout this extensive wedding photography tour they were always a delight to work with and so much fun.

April and Michael posing at San Francisco City Hall
April and Michael posing at SF City Hall
Ring Exwedding ring exchange at City Hall ceremony
Ring Exchange at City Hall ceremony
Wedding Reception in San Francisco
Wedding Reception in San Francisco

Places to Eat Near SF City Hall

We often are asked by our clients to suggest restaurants near to San Francisco City Hall.  Many of our brides and grooms want to  celebrate their wedding vows at a nearby eatery without having to get in the car and fight traffic.  As luck would have it, there are quite a few local restaurants in the vicinity of City Hall.  Some are only a couple of blocks away.  Listed below our some of our favorites in no particular order:

  • Jardiniere – Exceptional upscale cuisine with French influence.  They feature small bites elegantly prepared with a fantastic environment.  If you are looking for romantic dining this is the place to go.  They also have an amazing wine list and dedicated wine expert who will serve you the wine and discuss it with you.  A great dining experience and only 1 block from San Francisco City Hall.  Check out the Jardiniere website for more information.
  • Absinthe – Another personal favorite in the Hayes Valley area.  Absinthe is probably the place that most city hall couples choose when they want a nearby dinner celebration.  The wonderful thing about Absinthe is that it has a dedicated wedding reception facility right next to the eatery.  This spacious dining area provides the couple with excellent privacy.  The service here is amazing and the food if wonderful.  Try the French Onion Soup, it’s fantastic. The Absinthe website has a lot of excellent information.
  • Patxi’s Pizza – It is a pretty good walk from San Francisco City Hall but well worth it.  If you are looking for something much less expensive but still good food, this the place.  A much more casual dining experience, but with nice decor.  Patxi’s is known for their Chicago style pizza, but I actually prefer the smaller signature pizzas they serve.  Some Italian influence makes for some great individual style Pizzas.  Get 2 and share!  This is probably not the ideal place to bring a large wedding party, but it might be fun for a quick late lunch bite.   Patxi’s Pizza San Francisco
  • Soluna Cafe – Definitely a favorite of the city hall wedding crowd.  They host  wedding receptions there or small parties.  This is probably the closest eatery to city hall.  It’s basically right across the square and less than a 5 minute walk.  Known for the innovative cuisine and great bar set up.  This place receives very high marks from Yelp and is a personal favorite.  To obtain more information please check out the Soluna website.

Why Book a Pro Wedding Photographer Part 2

Continuing from our most recent post about why to hire a Professional City Hall Wedding Photographer:

Guiding you through the Process

This is one advantage that most brides and grooms don’t think about.  Yes, we know how to help you with the whole city hall wedding process.  From procuring your wedding license to checking in at the County Clerks’s office and then finally the ceremony.  Is this kind of assistance really necessary?  Probably not, but if you want to truly enjoy your wedding day, it makes sense to let someone else handle the complicated process of having your civil ceremony at city hall.  We find that most of our couples really are at a loss of where to go and what to do on the day of their ceremony.  When do you bring in the witness?  Why are we checking in?  Where do we get married?  These are common questions we are asked when we first meet our engaged couples on the day of their wedding.  To make the day go smoothly, we simply guide the couple through each step and stay with them the whole time.  Our couples love this and it makes their special day care free.

Posing the  Married Couple at City Hall

While it is true that your friend or relative who is “really good with a camera” may be able to take high quality images that are in focus, chances are they will not know how to pose the couple.   This is where most amateur wedding photographers fall down on the job.  Not coming up with fun and unique poses and more importantly, not knowing how to make the bride look her best.  Brides come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and each one of them deserves a professional wedding photographer who knows how to accentuate the good parts and hide the less than perfect aspects of the bride’s look.  This is not something that just anyone can do without any training or experience.  A professional wedding photography can take one look at the couple and know exactly how to handle the posing.   Your wedding day is too important of an event to leave to chance.

Final Products – Wedding Albums and Prints

What happens when your San Francisco City Hall wedding is over?  If you hired a professional wedding photographer, you will receive edited images within a month or less in most cases.  We deliver ours to our married couples in 3 weeks.  If you have your Uncle Bob photograph your wedding, when will you receive the photos?  When will he get to it?  With they even be professionally edited?  There are many reading this article right now thinking, big deal, we can do all of this ourselves.    The truth of the matter is that statistics show that most wedding couples do absolutely nothing with their wedding digital files.  Sure, they may post a few on Social Media and maybe even make a print on their home Inkjet printer.  But is this really how that should be handled?  We offer our couples retouched professionally  processed prints and beautiful wedding albums as options.  Many of our clients take advantage of this.  Even those that do not are assured of receiving a finished product after their wedding.  Fully edited and perfectly exposed wedding pictures!

Elegant pose at SF City Hall done by a professional wedding photographer
Elegant pose at SF City Hall

 

Why Book a Professional Wedding Photographer at City Hall

Yes, I know you are probably thinking that you have seen this type of article over and over again.  It is usually written by frustrated  professional wedding photographers who are begging  you to understand why it is so important to hire a pro.  The author will usually go on and on about the quality of work, the superior equipment and sharper and clearer pictures.  They will also spend considerable time discussing the pitfalls of having a friend do your wedding photography because they are likely to mess things up and/or take blurry images.  When I sat down to write this article for my blog, I decided I wanted to approach it differently.  Rather than stating the obvious, I wanted to provide my audience with some unique issues that they probably didn’t realize.   This blog post is also specifically about City Hall wedding photography since that is what this blog is all about!

Safety and Security

What are some of the nightmare issues I have heard about from clients about their friends shooting weddings for others?  Corruption of data, bad Flash Cards, hard drive crashes and insufficient backup systems are among the problems we hear the most about.  Professional City Hall wedding photographers including myself have a pretty complicated back up system.  Most of our pro cameras write each image photographed to 2 cards simultaneously.  This helps to lower the odds greatly that a Card Failure or corruption will wipe out your wedding memories.  Many of the so called “Prosumer” cameras do not have this feature.  Every photo I take is written to 2 cards with one being a backup for the other.  I hold on to one of the cards without deleting it until my clients have their images in their own possession.  This eliminates the possibility of loss or other failures.

If you have Uncle Bob do your San Francisco city hall wedding photography, chances are he will take your photos and then put them on a hard drive at his home.  Or he may just give you the cards.  Does this sound like a safe way to handle your precious memories?  Certainly not!  What if you lose the cards that he gives you?  What if his Hard Drive crashes or he has a house fire?  Does he have off-premises back up?  I am sure he does not.   When I shoot a city hall wedding, my cards go directly on my Computer hard drive.   Within seconds, they are also copied to my external hard drive.   They are simultaneously backed up to an off-premises location and then eventually uploaded to your secure site for viewing.   As I previously mentioned, I also keep one of the cards until the client receives their images.  So when you hire me as your wedding photographer, your images are basically backed up in 5 differently places temporarily and 3 places permanently.   Your wedding is a precious memory, it is not worth the risk of losing everything.

Tricky SF City Hall Lighting

Yes, this is a beautiful wedding venue and a great place for wedding photography, but is it easy to take pictures here?  Not really.  The huge windows and uneven lighting can give you fits.  There are some places that are impossible to shoot without a flash because of the strong backlighting.  We often wonder how some of the people we see shooting weddings without any professional lighting can get anything resembling a good result.  There are certain places in City Hall that are very dark.  Other places have unattractive overhead lighting.  This type of natural lighting will give all of your subjects “Raccoon Eyes”.    While it is true that there some some incredible locations at the city hall venue with amazing natural light, it’s not always easy to capture it.  It takes practice and experience to master the interior photos taken at city hall.

City Hall Major Events

One of the unknown things about San Francisco city hall is that they schedule large events throughout the week during the same time that weddings are occurring.  This is often surprising to many people and they don’t know how to handle it. When events are scheduled, City Hall frequently ropes off the Grand Staircase making it impossible to take photos in the area.  Since this is probably where about 75% of all photography takes place within city hall, this can be a problem.  The advantage of hiring a professional city hall photographer is that they will know other places to take you that are also beautiful and historic.  Some of these other areas may not be obvious to your amateur “friend” wedding photographer.  I know the first time I did a wedding at city hall, I had no idea about some of these other areas.  This one of the huge advantages to hiring a pro.  Not only do they know where to take you to avoid the crowds, but they also know about the “secret” locations around the building.

City Hall Staircase roped off and closed.
City Hall Staircase roped off and closed.

The above image shows what it looks like when the Grand Staircase is closed and you cannot go in.

We will post Part 2 of this article tomorrow.  Stay tuned!

City Hall Wedding Pictures

Another amazing bride and groom at San Francisco city hall.   Katie and Kyle reserved the 4th Floor North Gallery  to allow all of their guests to sit down in chairs.  They also roped off the entire side of the floor to allow the bridal party to have privacy from other weddings and tourists.  The cost for this is $1,000 for 1 hour of reserved time.  They did a traditional wedding procession with the bride being led into the ceremony by her parents.  The happy groom watching as they came in.  After a 20 minute ceremony and romantic vows, the couple was married!

Romantic moment during wedding vows
Romantic moment during wedding vows

The bride was very well prepared with a list of family photos that she provided us.  We love it when the couple can give us a predetermined list of family groupings.  It truly makes that part of the wedding go much fast allowing more time for bride and groom formal photos.  We began our shoot once we completed the family portraits, taking the couple around the building on what we call our “city hall photo tour”.  See below for some sample photos of our wedding photography shoot.

City Hall bride checks her wedding gown

City Hall bride checks her wedding gown

Bride and Groom walking down the Grand Staircase
Bride and Groom walking down the Grand Staircase
City Hall North Gallery Image
City Hall North Gallery Image
Hallway Wedding Image
Hallway Wedding Image

We spent around 45 minutes going from floor to floor at San Francisco city hall and taking pictures at many of our favorite locations.  It was unseasonably warm for an early February wedding so we took it slow to keep our bride fresh.  We were also quite pleased with the lack of crowds for a Thursday.  Normally Thursdays are the second busiest day at city hall, but early February is a slower time here and we were blessed with no crowds and the opportunity to get some great images.  With both the bride and groom letting us know that they were athletic, we asked them if they would be willing to do a lift shot.  We wanted Kyle to pick up Katie and lift her high in the air in front of the city hall sign.  Here is the fantastic result!

Bride Cheering in front of the city hall sign
Bride Cheering in front of the city hall sign

We really enjoyed this wedding and helped this couple make memories for years to come.

Parking for your Wedding at City Hall

It can be a challenge to park in San Francisco, especially anything close to Downtown.  We often get asked asked by our brides and grooms about the best places to park around city hall for their wedding.  There are a number of options and I will start with the most simple one:

  1. The Civic Center Parking Garage.  This is probably the most convenient of all of the nearby options at City Hall.  There is ample room and the lot rarely fills up.  Recently they have raised their pricing so it’s no longer the bargain it once was.  However, it is still less expensive than parking downtown and it is walking distance from the the entrance to City Hall.  It’s also covered parking which provides an extra level of safety.  For more details including parking rates and closing times, click this link:  Civic Center Parking
  2. The War Memorial Opera House Garage.  Another nearby option is at the Opera House behind San Francisco city hall off of Van Ness.  It may appear to be a little farther away, but in reality it’s about the same distance assuming you use the back entrance to city hall.  Just cross Van Ness street and you are there.  It also offers covered parking and decent pricing.   It’s usually available unless there is a big event going on there (like the opera!).  But since most city hall weddings are during the day, you should be able to park here with no problem.  Click here for details on Opera House parking.
  3. Civic Center Street Parking.  If you don’t need covered parking, there are quite a few spots on the street around City Hall.  The pricing is better but some are limited in time.  If you are going to be in the building for less than 2 hours, this might be a good option.  Just remember that city hall weddings rarely occur on time so you need to allow some cushion.  Its actually quite possible to find spots right across the street from city hall.  There is also a nice service available to help you locate and reserve street parking.  For more information click here:  Reserved Street Parking
  4. The above options are the most common ways that brides and grooms find parking for their wedding.  But there are many other possibilities.  This article shows some other great places to park so check it out and happy parking!
Entrance to the City Hall Parking garage
Entrance to the City Hall Parking garage
Parking Garage Walking Entrance for City Hall
Parking Garage Walking Entrance for City Hall