Often times there is more to photographing a San Francisco city hall wedding then just making nice pictures. The day of the wedding can be stressful and it is no different at city hall. Though truthfully, there is less to go wrong because with a civil ceremony you avoid problems with setting up the reception, food issues and choosing the perfect wedding favors. We recently photographed a wedding a city hall where we are able to help both the bride and groom prepare for the ceremony. There were a few minor complications and we were there to help!
Groom’s Pants Too Long
The groom asked me while waiting to check in at the County Clerk if I thought his pants were too long. They did seem to be a bit long, but what could be done this close to their civil ceremony? I remembered back to how I used to “hem” my own pants temporily with tape and suggested that to the groom. After some discussion, I went into the Clerk’s office and asked one of my friends who works the front desk if we could borrow some tape. After some visual measurements and approval by the bride we managed to put a nice temporary hem on the pants and they looked great!
Bride’s Eyelash Problems
As this was going on, I noticed the bride struggling with getting her eyelashes looking the way she wanted them, but there was nobody to hold the mirror for her because the Groom was busy “hemming” his pants. So without the bride asking me, I grabbed the mirror for her and held it while she did the finishing touches on her eyes. Just a simple gesture really and in no way heroic, but it was much appreciated by both of our clients.
I never really gave it a second thought until a few weeks later I received a 5 star review from the newlyweds about their SF city hall wedding. One of the highlights of this Yelp review was the bride mentioning both of the problems above and how we helped. Again, these were relatively easy tasks, but it reminded me how important it is to be there for your city hall wedding photography client in all ways possible. Of course, we still needed to deliver great photos of their wedding, but the sometimes the little things get noticed and appreciated the most!
Celebrating after the Wedding! Bride and Groom Kissing at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco
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:
Newlyweds leaving SF City Hall Happy
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. We recently added some better off camera lighting and it has improved some of our photography in the darker areas of city hall like the Mayor’s Balcony. This new lighting system also recycles faster giving us the ability to shoot faster.
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 the best 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! We just received a Yelp Review from a great client who complimented us on helping the groom with shortening his pants (with tape). I also held the mirror so the bride could put on her eyelashes. These little things make a difference on how you become the best wedding photographer possible.
I am sure you are thinking this is easy right? Just look at the photos on the Wedding Photographer’s website! Well, if it was that easy, brides wouldn’t spend hours searching for their ideal SF City Hall wedding photographer. I decided to write this post because of the things I have heard from the hundreds of brides (and grooms) I have interviewed over the past many years. Some negative and some positive.
One of the biggest decisions engaged couples need to make is who should they choose to be their wedding photographer. This might even be more important when it comes to City Hall photographers. Why? Because there are so many photographers specializing in this type of wedding photography and it can be confusing. As I look at the different City Hall photographers, I see many of the same poses in the same locations. It is clear that everyone is copying each other in many cases. So how do you decide and how do you keep it simple?
Avoid “Best Of” Portfolio Galleries
When you search for the perfect city hall wedding photographer for you, its important to not get caught up in websites that only show 1 or 2 of the best shots from each marriage. Yes, you are going to be attracted to this particular photographer because they are sure to display some amazing photos. While there is nothing wrong with that, it may not indicate how YOUR wedding images will ultimately look like. The fact is, when you take 300 photos at a typical city hall wedding you are bound to get a couple of amazing images. I am not saying it is only a matter of luck, certainly seeing images with impact is a prerequisite to exploring this particular photographer further.
Search for Complete City Hall Weddings
Once that initial attraction is over, you need to go deeper into the photographer’s website. The first thing you should look for is a complete gallery of ONE WEDDING! Hopefully the photographer will have a few to show off and with at least 20 photos each. You want to see the entire coverage of this city hall wedding from start to finish. From candid shots showing the couple’s County Clerk Check-in all the way to the final shot when they say good bye in front of the San Francisco City Hall sign. There should be ceremony shots, posed shots, candids and even family pictures. Yes, what if you thought you hired the perfect wedding photographer only to find out they can’t put together a pleasant looking family photo for you. Backgrounds are important and so is the way the family is arranged and made to react to the photo. Now all that is left is to evaluate the quality of each of the photos and determine if it fits your own personal style.
Interview the Wedding Photographer
After you have looked at websites and narrowed the field down to a select few, make some phone calls. Make sure you are talking on the phone to the wedding photographer and not a receptionist trained to deal with prospects. This part is very important, it will give you a sense of the city hall photographer’s personality and style. But most crucial is how they interact with you on the phone! If they start asking you questions about your wedding and the types of things you are looking for, this is a very good sign. It means that they care about pleasing you and not just looking for another sale. This is obviously your chance to ask questions as well, but it is very important that the conversation is 2-way and not just a canned marketing speech by the city hall photographer. Ask questions that will reveal their knowledge of the building and the whole process of getting married there. Come right out and ask them how many weddings they have photographed at San Francisco city hall and for how long. The answers to these questions will tell you a lot!
Check Yelp and Other Reviews
Once you have interviewed a few city hall photographers and are satisfied with their responses and experience, it is time to do a background check. Yelp can be very helpful and other sites such as Wedding Wire and The Knot. However, here again, it’s important to reach deeper. The fact that your chosen wedding photographer has 60 – 5 star reviews is not as important as HOW they received these great reviews. Read the details of what some of the more recent reviews had to say. This will also help you learn about their style and how they deal with their clients.
Keep it simple and straightforward and you will soon know that you found the right city hall wedding photographer for you!
Kissing in Front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
I am a rare breed, an actual San Francisco native. I was born in the city and lived there for many years with my family. Our neighborhood happened to be the famous Haight Ashbury District and I lived there in in the 1960’s during the Hippie era. I remember walking through the Pan Handle and literally stepping over Hippies lying in the streets as I walked with my classmates to school. It was quite an experience and a different time. We used to play outside by ourselves with no fear. I could walk home from school by myself and we didn’t think it was any big deal. As a young adult I attended the University of San Francisco, which was walking distance from where I lived as a child. So what does any of this have to do with wedding photography in San Francisco? Keep reading to find out….
San Francisco as Inspiration
The San Francisco community fancies itself as an art society. People here are very in touch with their “right brain”. What does this mean? Right brainers are focused on creative pursuits and art. San Francisco inspires artists to create. It’s hard to define, but I just know that many of the best San Francisco wedding photographers are concerned with providing their clients with more than just traditional images. They want to use San Francisco as a backdrop for amazing creative and historic images. It is easy to do here, because the city offers so much. Having grown up here, I find myself very much in tune with the beauty and history all around us. We love taking our clients to beautiful places like The Palace of Fine Arts and the Legion of Honor. We want to show our couples different aspects of living in San Francisco through wedding photography. When we take couples on a photo tour of the city, we talk about the lifestyle and also show examples. When it comes to San Francisco, it is more than just the beauty, it’s the culture and the history. I know it may be over reaching a little bit, I truly think that many of our brides and grooms like to feel the whole San Francisco persona.
Christmas at city hall in San Francisco
San Francisco Landmarks
The city has so many amazing landmarks and historical locations to take our couples. The Grand Staircase in the photo above is one of these San Francisco Landmarks. Tourists flock to see it and take pictures of it. It makes for a great wedding photography background as you can see. On any given day, you will find many San Francisco residents enjoying the beauty and elegance of these places not only in city hall but outside. This is part of the San Francisco lifestyle, a very easy going pace when compared to other large cities. Hanging out in Golden Gate park, spending time by the Painted Ladies or just walking on Baker Beach. These activities are all part of how people live in the City by the Bay. The fact that I grew up here makes me even more motivated to show visitors what a fun place it is to live. It certainly is a great place to be a wedding photographer.
Experiencing the San Francisco lifestyle
We look forward to sharing our vision of San Francisco with all of our clients, brides and grooms or engaged couples whether they live here or are visiting from other countries.
We photographed Cheri and Wesley’s San Francisco City Hall wedding on 10/13 and had never met them prior to the wedding. When I arrived at City Hall, I contacted Cheri so we could meet prior to the wedding. During our phone conversation Cheri told me: “Don’t worry, you will recognize me, I am pretty sure that I am the only bride in the building wearing a dress with black and white polka dots!” She was definitely correct, we spotted her right away! San Francisco City Hall is a great place to wear an outfit like this, everything seems to work here and the more colorful the better.
Polka Dot Wedding Dress at SF City Hall
Cheri’s attitude matched the fun in her dress and we had a great time at their wedding. Wesley and her came all the way from Alaska to have their nuptials at one of the best wedding venues on the west coast. They talked about the affordability and historic beauty of city hall and how they really wanted to have their wedding here. They chose our City Hall Tour Package which provided them with 4 hours of photographic coverage and 3 locations in San Francisco. They choose to go to the Palace of Fine Arts, the Golden Gate Bridge and then finish up at Ghirardelli Square.
Fun Wedding Dress at the Grand Staircase
The weather was gorgeous in typical October “Indian Summer” fashion in San Francisco. We drove the couple to each location and had a fantastic time. We love it when our clients choose the San Francisco Tour package. It’s affordable, fun and you really get to know the client. We find that the end of the Hyde Street Line is one of the best places to take good Cable Car photos. The Cable Cars line up here to wait to go in for their next load of passengers and so there is a nice opportunity to post the newlyweds while waiting. In the image below, we asked the couple to hang out a little from the Trolley to make it appear like they were riding. Definitely a fun shot to go with our bride’s fun dress.
What are some of the best ways to approach City Hall wedding photography?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 400 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. To see more wedding please go to our CITY HALL HOME PAGE
San Francisco City Hall Staircase Waving Goodbye
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 San Francisco window image 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.
Ring Exchange at City Hall ceremony Wedding Reception in San Francisco
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!
I am writing this blog post because we have had a number of brides at city hall show up without flowers. San Francisco city hall is an amazing place to have your wedding ceremony. The architecture alone is incredible but there is even more to this story. Because of the way the building is oriented, the natural light can pretty amazing at times. As a City Hall wedding photographer, you learn where to go at certain times of the day to capture this light. The windows are also incredible, not only because of the light they let in, but also the designs on the windows themselves. The only small problem with photographing weddings here is that the backgrounds are all very neutral. You have a mixture of white and gray and many shades in between. For this reason flowers make an incredible difference. Just adding that little splash of color can really enhance a wedding photo here.
As you can see from the above photo, the image is enhanced by the color added from the bride’s bouquet. Even the boutonniere worn by the groom makes a difference. We are able to produce wonderful images even without flowers, but we highly suggest you consider bringing even a small arrangement. I honestly think that some City Hall brides dont even think about the possibility of flowers because its a civil ceremony. But San Francisco city hall is so different because of the elegance of the building! Here is a link to a city hall florist that we have liked in the past just in case you need ideas.
Another fun thing about bringing a bouquet to your city hall wedding is that you can throw it! Its kind of obvious who was going to catch it this time, but still a fun shot. For more information about our SF City Hall Wedding Photography service check out our Yelp Reviews. We feel that it is more important to carefully read the reviews than to look at the rating. We always try to help our brides and grooms out with the process of getting married at City Hall and this is reflected in our Reviews. Providing advice on flowers is just one aspect of how we try to assist our Newlyweds.
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!
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
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!
We really enjoyed this wedding and helped this couple make memories for years to come.