Admittedly, SF City Hall offers a bit of an embarrassment of riches because there are so many locations that could be considered the best. The actual purpose of this Blog post is to share my 12 years of San Francisco city hall wedding photography experience to help you understand WHY each of the locations are preferred. I will provide a brief description and some of the attributes of each location and provide a photo. This is Part 1 of what will be a 3 part series.
The City Hall Grand Staircase
As I have said many times, this is most of our client’s favorite location for their wedding pictures. If anything, we try to encourage our brides and grooms that yes, the Staircase is amazing, but there are other beautiful spots in SF City Hall as well. Why? Probably because the Grand Staircase is the first place that the City Hall events department closes down when there is going to be a big event. So this can cause some worries among our clients. Most events in the building are centered around the Staircase so its natural that they would close it down. We try to be keenly aware of what is going on at SF city hall that might prevent us from not getting Staircase images if its going to be closed down soon. Over our many years photographing weddings here, we have learned the warning signs that a big event is coming. One of the more obvious signs is that the Events Department starts setting up ropes off on the sides that will soon be spread out to block off the section. Is the Grand Staircase better than all of the other photography locations at San Francisco city hall. I will let you be the judge. Lately, this has happened a lot less because city hall events are down since the Pandemic hit. Eventually, we think they will be back, but we are enjoying it while we can!
So why do we all love the Grand Staircase so much? I think its mostly because it is the centerpiece of the beautiful Architecture present at San Francisco City Hall. It’s smooth curves and nicely patterned floors creates an amazing backdrop to city hall wedding pictures. Yes, it can be difficult to get a free shot without tourists and other photographers in the background. You also have to deal with the occasional tourist group that feels like it is a great place to rest all of their bags, jackets and themselves! Fortunately the Grand Staircase is large and can be approached from many angles, so the best city hall wedding photographers can figure out how to capture an image with a minimum of distractions. No doubt the Grand Staircase deserves its spot as one of the top city hall wedding photography locations, but let’s look at some of the others. We always seem to manage to get some great shots without strangers in the background, it just takes some patience.
The Mayor’s Balcony- Better?
In addition to one of the favored locations for reserved weddings at San Francisco City Hall, the Mayor’s Balcony also is a beautiful spot to bring the bride and groom for wedding pictures. In a sense, the Mayor’s Balcony is the best central viewing location for the entire building. It faces the Grand Staircase and is located directly across from the Rotunda. In addition, the Mayor’s Balcony is high enough to afford better views of the 4th floor galleries as well as the beautiful windows on the 3rd floor. All in all, it becomes a wonderful place to pose the newlyweds and we can basically choose any background you want! We would also point out that it is probably the best location at city hall to get a panoramic view of the entire interior. We will often capture images up here with a super wide angle lens to take in all of the beauty in the background. In addition, it also provides a perfect downward looking vantage point of the Grand Staircase. You can really get some great images looking down at the couple because this angle displays the patterned floor very effectively. This image below shows how a Staircase shot can look when captured from the Mayor’s Balcony.
Second Floor Hallway at City Hall
I kind of feel like we were one of the first San Francisco city hall wedding photographers to really take advantage of the gorgeous repeating lines in the Second Floor Hallway. One of the hallmarks of Beaux-Arts architecture is the symmetry and repeating patterns and lines. Well it just so happens that repeating lines is a classic photography background so no wonder City Hall is so fabulous for wedding pictures! The Hallway allows us to place our newlyweds in the center and the background shows behind them with beautiful patterns and colors. We will sometimes back light the bride and groom as you see in the black and white photo are the very top of this blog post. This helps provide a dramatic glow in the image and especially the bride’s veil. We asked the groom to bend the bride back slightly to display the veil and make it glow from the back light. Even if we do not use back lighting, the repeating lamps in the photo makes for a nice image. You can get great pictures here, both and day and night. The Wedding picture at the very top of this Post is an example of the Second Floor Hallway. In this particular photo, we decided that a silhouette effect would be the most dramatic. It has become one of our favorite and best San Francisco city hall wedding pictures.