5 Best Ideas for Your City Hall Wedding in 2019

If you are a San Francisco City Hall Bride-to-Be, you want the perfect wedding. I have been involved in over 400 weddings at City Hall since 2012 and created this guide just for you.

Idea # 1Treat your city hall wedding like you would any other wedding. City Hall is a formal venue. The elegance of this building lends itself to making your event fancy and at the same time fun. I can’t tell you how many times my city hall brides have been surprised when they enter the building and see so many formal dresses on others. Many feel that since their San Francisco city hall wedding is a so called “Civil Ceremony” that people will be dressed more casually. They soon find that brides will often go all out with their dresses and the grooms will wear tuxes. It works here because of the high class atmosphere at city hall. The other thing that frequently is left out is Flowers. Many of our brides do not bring a bouquet for the same reasons. They think of SF City Hall weddings as informal, so no flowers are purchased. From a city hall wedding photographer’s standpoint, I highly recommend flowers be included. Despite the obvious beauty of the building, there is one minor issue…. There is no color in the background at city hall, so adding some flowers provides some nice contrast and focus.

Idea #2 – Consider having a Reserved wedding at City Hall. For an extra $900 you can rent out either Mayor’s Balcony or the 4th Floor North Gallery and have a semi-private ceremony at San Francisco City Hall. The cost of $1,000 is actually a bargain in San Francisco for a wedding celebration. They can seat up to 60 people and you get a roped off private area to have your wedding for 1 hour.

Idea #3 – Book your city hall wedding Reception at a nearby Restaurant. There are a number of great places to eat walking distance from San Francisco city hall. Save money on transportation and have your wedding celebration at any one of them. It will be more convenient for your guests and will save you dollars! Some examples include: Soluna Cafe, Corridor, Jardiniere and Absinthe, but there are many more!

Idea #4 – Obtain your Marriage License the day before your city hall ceremony. Obviously it is much more convenient to process and receive your marriage license on the same day you have your civil ceremony and it normally works OK. However, as city hall wedding photographers we have witnesses many times where this procedure backfires on the engaged couple. One of the reasons relates to timing. If you don’t allow enough of it between the license processing and the actual wedding ceremony, you might end up feeling rushed. I believe a couple’s wedding day should be a celebration without too much time spent processing paperwork. The other issue that occasionally comes up are documentation problems. If you do not have the appropriate documents to process the license and your wedding is in 30 minutes, you have a big problem. However, if you do this the day before, it gives you a full day to fix any issues and it is one less thing to worry about on your wedding day.

Idea #5 – Hire a professional San Francisco city hall wedding photographer. OK, so you might have seen this coming since you happen to be reading a blog from a city hall wedding photographer. However, we would not be in this business if we didn’t strongly believe in what we do. I am not just talking about booking us for your wedding, I am encouraging SF city hall brides and grooms to hire any of the top wedding photographers out there. There are many good ones and all of them want to provide you with great memories. Don’t try to save money by hiring Uncle Steve to do you wedding with his really cool new DSLR camera (that he barely knows how to use!)

Checking in at the County Clerks office at San Francisco City Hall
The famous Grand Staircase at San Francisco city hall

Easy Wedding Photography

Candid city hall ceremony image
Fun Walking shot at City Hall in San Francisco

What do we mean by “Easy Wedding Photography” and how is it accomplished? Why even try to make it easy? Easy for who?

I decided to write this blog post in response to a very common concern among engaged couples looking for a city hall wedding photographer. These types of concerns are especially prevalent with grooms:

  • Will wedding photography dominate our day?
  • Are we going to have to do a lot of silly poses?
  • Is the wedding photographer going to be difficult to deal with?
  • Will we feel uncomfortable during the formal shoot?
  • Will the wedding photographer listen to our concerns or suggestions?

Notice that none of these VERY common questions have anything to do with the quality, quantity or cost of the wedding photos. Yes, you would think that our clients would be more concerned about those types of issues. After all, isn’t that the most important thing? We all want great photos and lots of them for a low price. Oddly enough, however, we receive a great many emails and calls asking questions that are more related to the how the shoot will go and what will be required. I recently almost lost a wedding booking because the groom decided that he didn’t want to go through with hiring a professional city hall wedding photographer because he thought it would make him feel uncomfortable to pose for pictures. After some reassurance that I would strive to make the photo shoot “easy” the couple went ahead and booked.

San Francisco City Hall couple waiting to get married

Keeping Wedding Photography Comfy

So it is obvious that this is a valid concern among our clients. Who wants to have no fun on their wedding day? Who wants to spend the entire day taking wedding photos? With a few exceptions, the answer is nobody. Most people want to have brilliant wedding photos with a small amount of fuss and time spent. Is this realistic? The answer really depends upon the expectation of the couple. Consistent with this same topic, many of our engaged couples let us know that they want mostly candid photos on their wedding day. I always let them know that we are happy to provide them any type of photography coverage that they prefer, but I am also quick to point out that San Francisco City Hall weddings may not have as many candid moments as a typical wedding would have. There is no dancing, no cake cutting, no toasts and often times no guests. The candid moments need to be created by the wedding photographer in most cases. We do this by having the couple walk hand-in-hand through out the building and interact as though they were just touring the building. But obviously not all of the photos can be walking shots. We mix it up and try to put the newlyweds in other interactive situations. We even might sit them down on the Grand Staircase and just have them interact and talk. Some of our best images can be born out of these contrived situations. Keep the wedding photography easy and you will end up with great final images!

Laughing while posing for pictures at SF city hall

Beyond Wedding Photos

Checking in with the County Clerk
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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!

Happy Bride and Groom with Marriage Certificate and officiant
Happy Bride and Groom with Marriage Certificate and officiant

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!

Groom kissing bride on the 3rd floor of SF City Hall
Groom kissing bride on the 3rd floor of SF City Hall

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.

Bride and groom in front of city hall sign while twirling her dress.
Bride and groom in front of city hall sign while twirling her dress.

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!

Best Wedding Photographers SF City Hall

Celebrating after the Wedding! Celebrating after the Wedding!Bride and Groom Kissing at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco 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 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.

Best City Hall Wedding Photography

Here are some thoughts from other experts on this subject.  What makes wedding photographers the best?

Bride and Groom in San Francisco having fun at the Legion of Honor Bride and Groom in San Francisco having fun at the Legion of HonorElegant Bride at San Francisco City Hall Elegant Bride at San Francisco City Hall