Guide to New SF City Hall Guest Rules

I had reported about 3 weeks ago on this blog that it appeared that the San Francisco county clerk’s office had been asked by the Mayor’s office to start enforcing the 6 guest limit rule. At that time, we were not sure how city hall planned to enforce the new rules, especially given the short notice for all married couples affected. To summarize my prior blog entry, the decision was made to hold any large weddings up on the 4th floor since there is more room up there and it is far enough away from things to not be disruptive. The problem with this solution is that in many ways, it rewarded couples who brought large groups with them because being banished to the beautiful 4th floor North Gallery was actually a great thing. The issue is that the Rotunda which is the default location for all San Francisco city hall ceremonies is adjacent to the Board Of Supervisors meeting room. It’s also just across from the Mayor’s office.

Marriage Ceremonies in Private Room

Starting last week the SF County Clerk’s has created a new solution to this issue. Couples who go over the 6 guest limit are now required to have their Marriage Ceremony in the Private room. The Private room is a relatively small city hall ceremony location that affords the bride and groom privacy and relative quiet. It’s not particularly a popular location for city hall marriages because engaged couples that come here are mostly looking for the beauty and architecture that makes SF City Hall Famous. In fact, just to give you an idea, I have photographed about 450 city hall marriages over the years and I have only set foot in that room about 6 times. A very low percentage indeed!

The new procedure occurs at your County Clerk ceremony check-in . Now they specifically ask you: “How many guests for your wedding?”. If you say 9, for example, they tell you that you are going to have your ceremony in the private room. No exceptions! Obviously this can be a problem for the couples that have been bringing 20 plus guests to their San Francisco city hall wedding. The reason is that there is no way that 20 can fit in that tiny private room. In fact, I would venture to say that only about 8 people can fit comfortably. At this point, if you are planning on having a large group for your San Francisco city hall wedding, I would suggest you consider reserving more space in the building. 2 locations are available and you can research and even book them by clicking on this link to the City Hall Events Department.

Best SF City Hall Wedding Photography Locations – Part 2

This is part 2 of our blog post about the best San Francisco City Hall wedding photography locations. We have already explored the Grand Staircase, the Mayors Balcony and the 2nd Floor hallway. Here are a few more favorites:

3rd Floor window light on bridge at city hall

3rd Floor North Windows – City Hall

Why do we love the 3rd floor so much for city hall wedding pictures? It’s definitely the light. The soft light that comes in from these north facing windows is soft, warm and complimentary. We can do so many things with this when it comes to posing the newlyweds. Here are some of our favorite options:

  • Bride and groom in front of the window with soft back lighting
  • Bride looking out the window with natural light on her face
  • Separate bride and groom on each side of window
  • Bride and groom in the hallway using the window for natural lighting
  • Full length bridal portraits using window light to highlight veil
4th Floor Architecture with wide angle lens at San Francisco city hall

SF City Hall 4th Floor North Gallery

Besides the Grand Staircase, this is probably one of the better city hall wedding photography locations in the building. It certainly is the favorite of many couples because of the beautiful architecture and direct light. The huge windows become a primary light source that literally wraps around your subject. In portrait photography terminology, it is like having a giant Soft Box to light your subjects. You can shoot portrait style close images on the 4th floor and blur the background or you get out the wide angle lens and display the amazing ceiling architecture and the city hall dome. It really is one of San Francisco’s most iconic picture taking spots.

Front Entrance with City Hall Sign

This is the photograph that virtually all of our couples want. They see it on other websites and they always request it. Since we usually save this background for the end of our shoot, we sometimes will receive questions from our bride and groom. “What about the City Hall Entrance?” As though we might forget it or don’t normally make it part of our normal portfolio of shots. They are always quite relieved to hear that we are saving one of the best shots for last! There are SO many photos we often do outside of the building in front of this famous doorway. Here are a few samples:

  • Groom Lifting Bride
  • Groom and Bride happily walking out through the door
  • Bride and groom cheering
  • Bride and groom jumping
  • Newlyweds kissing
  • Funny / silly poses
San Francisco city hall wedding picture at the front entrance - groom kissing bride

Best SF City Hall Wedding Photography Locations

Best SF City Hall wedding photography locations - the 2nd Floor Hallway
Second Floor Hallway at San Francisco City Hall

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 8 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.

Grand Staircase at San Francisco city hall
Grand Staircase at SF City Hall

The City Hall Grand Staircase

As I have said many times, this is most of our client’s best 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. 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 to 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. Is the Grand Staircase better than all of the other photography locations at San Francisco city hall. I will let you be the judge.

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 minimal 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.

Mayors Balcony at San Francisco City Hall
Mayors Balcony

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!

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. 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 photo above. This helps provide a dramatic glow in the image and especially the bride’s veil.

SF City Hall to Enforce 6 Guest Rule

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, the San Francisco city hall County Clerk’s office has decided to begin enforcing the maximum 6 guest rule. I personally spoke with officials at the County Clerk’s office and they understand that this rule may cause some hardship for brides and grooms, but their hand was forced. For years, SF City Hall has looked the other way as couples seeking a civil ceremony have violated the rule of 6 maximum. Many couples took the rules seriously or only invited a few people over the maximum. Well behaved groups of 10 or 12 people did not cause much concern or problems and so the Marriage Commissioners were able to allow the overage. However, in recent years couples were increasingly attempting to take advantage of the 6 person rule, because it was reportedly “not enforced”. We began to see groups of 20, 30 and even 36 for our city hall weddings. As these groups became more and more disruptive, there were rumblings of a possible crack down on the rule.

The Final Straw at City Hall’s Rotunda

The moment of truth occurred a couple of weeks ago, when an extremely large crowd of guests attended what was supposed to be a small civil ceremony. In addition to the noise and disruption caused by this group, they also had small children running around. Ultimately, the County Clerk’s received complaints from both the Mayor Office and the Board of Supervisors. Excess noise and the sheer volume of people affected important meetings and other city hall activities. So now the County Clerk’s office has no choice but to act. My own speculation is that weddings could be suspended or reduced in the future if this problem cannot be controlled. As a temporary solution, City Hall will be accommodating previously booked weddings on the 4th floor if they are larger than the 6 maximum. Meanwhile all newly booked weddings will see the rule enforced along with changes to the San Francisco city hall website with additional warnings.

Alternatives to a San Francisco Civil Ceremony

Fortunately, SF City Hill does offer alternatives for couples seeking a wedding with more guests. You can reserve the Mayors Balcony or 4th floor North Gallery for 1 hour at the very low price of $1,000. They set up chairs for your guests and allow up to 60 guests depending upon location. We have performed many such “reserved weddings” and they work out great. Despite the fact that this option costs considerably more than a simple civil ceremony, it is still a relative bargain when compared to other San Francisco venues. You have the added advantage of one of best destinations in the Western states for wedding photography. The one hour reservation time also provides you with time for doing your group and family photography in an enclosed environment without tourist roaming through your shots.

“Wedding Photography by Michael” is one of the leading San Francisco city hall wedding photographers. To learn more check out our home page for city hall weddings.

A Wedding Photographer’s Perspective

A Recent 2019 San Francisco  City Hall Wedding
A Recent 2019 San Francisco City Hall Wedding

We spend a lot of time on this blog talking about all the reasons our clients should consider holding their nuptials at San Francisco city hall. I thought it would be interesting to present a different view point. A perspective that has nothing at all to do with the potential benefits and advantages of City Hall weddings to the general public. Instead today, I present a photographers view of the joys of shooting weddings here. Why do we like it and are there actually a few things that we dislike.

Introduction

The first time I ever set foot in San Francisco city hall, I was greeted by multiple brides walking around. Understand that at this point I had already been a wedding photographer for many years. In my world, brides only existed on weekends or maybe an occasional Friday. Weekday brides? This can’t be, I thought! I investigated further and realized that yes, people DO get married during the week. Not just a few people but many, many people. A further investigation revealed that, in fact, San Francisco city hall hosted approximately 35 weddings per day! A wedding photographer’s paradise!

Wedding Photography as a Career

Before I get into what I did after making this amazing discovery, I think it is important to share a few quick words on Wedding Photography from a business owner’s perspective. In many ways, being in the wedding and event business is very rewarding and it can be lucrative if you have the right niche. However, anyone in the Wedding / Event business will tell you that once you become successful your weekends are mostly shot. Especially during the summer months. When my business was at it’s peak, I would sometimes go 6 or 7 weekends in a row without being able to do anything in the summer that didn’t involve pointing my camera at pretty brides. My wife was always having to make excuses for me and explaining to family members why I could not attend events and parties. “Mike has a wedding that weekend”.

Investing In San Francisco City Hall

It didn’t take too long for me to figure out that I should try to explore the possibility of photographing more weddings at city hall and less big weddings on weekends. So before it was popular to do so, I made a City Hall Wedding Photography website and also added a City Hall section on my main website. I am not saying I was the first of many San Francisco wedding photographers to make these changes because I wasn’t. However, I certainly was among the first pioneers to specialize in weddings here. Many other wedding photographers have followed and now there are dozens that claim it as a specialty. Not so long after I made these changes, the weddings started to pour in and we found ourselves busier than ever. It didn’t take long for me to be able to cut back on my big weekend weddings and now I am happily one of the leading wedding photographers shooting weddings at this amazing venue.

End of Part 1 – Part 2 coming tomorrow!

Quick City Hall Reminder

When checking in to San Francisco city hall for your civil ceremony, please remember to bring your current Identification and your marriage license. You will not be allowed to have your civil ceremony that day without these documents. We strongly recommend obtaining your marriage license the day before your city hall ceremony rather than doing in on the same day. This will make your wedding day less stressful!

False Alarm at City Hall

This won’t be my typical blog post, but I just had to talk about this today. We had a quite a crazy day for our most recent San Francisco City Hall wedding, but our couple handled it amazingly well. This is the story of the day, March 11, 2019.

County Clerk Line

It all started with an unusually long line at the County Clerk’s office for our soon to be married couple . What was normally about a 3 minute line was actually closer to 20 minutes. How did this happen? We are pretty sure it was mostly due to some bad timing coupled with the fact that the other doorway that handles Birth Certificates happened to be closed that morning. Anyway, we got in line to check-in and we waited. It was not that big of a deal at this point because everyone was in the same boat. No weddings were going to happen until brides and grooms were able get through that line. We casually talked about nothing special mostly, with a little bit of discussion about the upcoming shoot and how we were going to handle things. I also asked the couple if they had lunch plans so I could determine the amount of time I would have for wedding photography after the ceremony. Unfortunately, the couple DID have reservations and the place they wanted to go to was only able to hold their reserved time until around 2:30 to begin their party.

Couple waiting  patiently in line
couple waiting patiently in line

Timing Unfortunate – Ceremony

After waiting for all of that time the couple finally made it to the front of the line and were just about ready to be summoned in to meet with their marriage commissioner and then it happened….. The Fire Alarm sounded and we received the order to evacuate City Hall. The engaged couple were already about 20 minutes late and this delay would prove to be so much more. We spent a good 1 hour outside waiting to get cleared to return to the building once the Fire Department arrived and departed having determined that it was a faulty Smoke alarm that was at the route of the problem. Of course a certain city hall safety protocol had to be met before visitors were allowed back into the building. This included allowing the employees in first!

Happy SF City Hall Ending

After all of this waiting and worrying, the ending was happy. The couple not only had their San Francisco city hall wedding ceremony, but they made it to their lunch on time. The venue decided to stay open a little later just for them! Toni and I felt like we did a nice job keeping the couple calm and the family informed. We tried to turn a potentially stressful situation into a positive marriage experience. The newlyweds will probably look back on this day and smile!

Valentine’s Day at City Hall

Another fun Valentine’s Day at San Francisco city hall! For those of you who are unfamiliar, city hall has been staging a celebration on Valentines Day the past few years. They allow walk-ins to get married at no cost! You might have to wait a while, but its all part of the fun. They set up a Photo Booth and bring in pretty much all of the Marriage Commissioners to deal with the overflow.

Valentines Officiants waiting their turn
Valentines Officiants waiting their turn

Cute Places for Wedding Photography

To further enhance your Valentines Day wedding experience the County Clerk’s office sets up cute, Valentine’s themed Backdrops for photo opportunities. I think this is particularly important because if you are getting married on this special day, it is appropriate to have some wedding pictures that will remind you of the day. As San Francisco city hall wedding photographers, we would also photograph you around the building to take advantage of all that this destination has to offer. But I love the idea of getting a few shots in the giant Heart for example and in front of their many other decorations.

Multiple brides waiting to get married at SF City Hall
Multiple brides waiting to get married at SF City Hall

Fun Day at San Francisco City Hall

The other thing I need to mention is just the overall mood present this day among all of the workers in the County Clerk’s office and the brides and grooms. A positive mood is created for all to enjoy and I always look forward to being involved in it. In fact, this year I didn’t even book a wedding, but showed up anyway to be involved and to get a few nice photos for this blog.

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