Simple Way to Find the Right City Hall Wedding Photographer For YOU!

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.

Candid shot of the couple checking in for their city hall wedding in San Francisco, CA
Candid shot of the couple checking in for their city hall wedding in San Francisco, CA

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?

Having fun during their civil ceremony at SF city hall
Having fun during their civil ceremony at SF city hall

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.

Romantic shot of the bride and groom with her ring
Romantic shot of the bride and groom with her ring

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.

The Grand Staircase at Christmas time.  A mix of black and white and color in San Francisco.
The Grand Staircase at Christmas time. A mix of black and white and color in San Francisco.

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!

San Francisco City Hall Entrance with happy newlyweds
San Francisco City Hall Entrance with happy newlyweds

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!

Living in San Francisco

The San Francisco Life

Kissing in Front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco 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 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 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.

Fun Wedding Dress at City Hall

 

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 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 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.

Cable Car on the Powell Street Line Cable Car on the Powell Street Line

Best City Hall Wedding Photography

San Francisco Wedding Photography at City Hall
San Francisco Wedding Photography at City Hall

Asian Wedding at the Palace of Fine  Arts
Asian Wedding at the Palace of Fine Arts

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.

Asian Wedding at SF City Hall
Asian Wedding at SF City Hall

Past Favorite City Hall Weddings

April and Michael posing at San Francisco City Hall April and Michael posing at SF City Hall

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 San Francisco City Hall StaircaseWaving Goodbye 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 Deep Dance Dip Post at City HallSan Francisco window image at city hall San Francisco window imageLeg 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.

Ring Exwedding ring exchange at City Hall ceremony Ring Exchange at City Hall ceremonyWedding Reception in San Francisco Wedding Reception in San Francisco

Why Book a Pro Wedding Photographer Part 2

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

Best City Hall Photographer
Best City Hall 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

Flowers at SF City Hall

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.

City Hall Image with Flowers
City Hall Image with Flowers

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 is you can throw it.

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.

City Hall Wedding Pictures

City Hall bride checks her wedding gown
City Hall bride checks her wedding gown

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

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.

Valentines Day at San Francisco City Hall

Checking in on Valentines Day

Valentines Day is coming soon and City Hall is going to have it’s usual mass wedding party.  The last few years at city hall in San Francisco, the County Clerks office has made Valentines day into a fun marriage celebration.  Rather than have Brides and Grooms check in at the County Clerks office they set up a booth in the North Gallery on the 1st floor so they can handle the larger volume of  people expected.  On Valentines day, City Hall gives engaged couples 2 options:  1. You can set an appointment to have your wedding at the time you want it and go through the normal process, but just in a different location or, 2. You can walk in with no appointment and still get married, you may just have to wait a bit.  In the past, they have offered this service for free.  I assume that it will be the same on February 14, 2019.

On normal weekdays, the County Clerk’s office supplies 1 officiant to do weddings throughout the day.  They are able to perform 3 ceremonies in the Rotunda every 30 minutes or so.  However, on Valentines Day, City Hall brings in multiple marriage commissioners to handle the larger work load.  It will not be unusual to see 5 or 6 of them at any given time.  They are all volunteers so it is very nice of them to do this for the public on this special occasion.  I expect to be photographing at least one wedding  on Valentines Day if not more.  I still have not quite figured out how the general public finds out about this special service offered on the 14th.  There is no mention of it on the San Francisco city hall website.  In any case, it is certainly a fun event and maybe I will see you there!

Embrace the Crowds at SF City Hall

This short blog post is going to run counter to everything you read and hear about San Francisco city hall wedding photography.  All we ever talk about as wedding photographers at this venue is how to avoid the crowds and trying to not have people in the background of our photos.  While there is some merit to this,  I am going to discuss a different approach.  Yes, city hall is a public building and the tourists have every right to be there even if they sometimes seem to not notice that they are in the way.  My brides and grooms are always asking me the best times of the day to avoid people and also the slowest day of the week at city hall.   I certainly understand their concerns and I do try to accommodate their wishes.  But there is another option……

Love the Crowds at City Hall

No I have not gone nuts.  But recently something happened that made me think.  We were in the middle of a wedding photography shoot and suddenly got disrupted by a protest march.  Normally the reaction would be for me to take my couple and go somewhere else to avoid the noise and the people .  But the groom had different ideas…. He wanted a photo of him and his wife right in front of the protest gathering.  In fact, when I took the picture he raised his fist as though he was part of the protest.  I have to admit that this picture turned out great and was not only fun, but also instructive.  Sure, the goal is to get creative and romantic photos in this great building.  But why not get some pictures that show very clearly that this is a public building.    When I think about it, I see lots of crazy and fun things that happen every day we are at city hall taking pictures of our newly married couples.   What kinds of things?  Here is a list:

  • Quinceneara Photo Shoots – These brightly colored 15 year old girls come into city hall with their photographers and take over certain parts of the venue.  Their photographers often take way too long on the Grand Staircase and bring large lighting equipment.  We avoid them as much as we can.
  • Protest Marches – San Francisco city hall is a popular place for protests and at times they come in the building.  Even if they don’t they can often easily be found right outside at the entrance.
  • School Tours – City Hall is “invaded” quite frequently by mobs of school kids touring the facility and learning about government.  Depending upon their ages they can be an unruly bunch!
  • Dramatic Portrait Shoots –  Professional photographers will often take their subjects to city hall to get photos.  The subject matter can range from ballerina dancers to people dressed as animals.
  • Service Dogs – City Hall allows Service dogs to enter the building with their companions.  Sometimes causing some pretty crazy moments as the dogs react to their surroundings.
  • Political Speeches –  Yes, San Francisco city hall attracts and arranges for candidates and politicians to come in the building and make their case.

There are many more examples, but you get the point.  Rather than trying to always avoid these things, we can sometimes use them as a backdrop to our wedding photography shoot.  Putting the couple in a natural setting and showing what was going on that day can add yet another memory to their special day.  The humor in the situation will also help the couple not feel so unhappy about the disruption.  We will still get their great romantic pictures, but we will also add a little fun!