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!

City Hall Wedding Photography with a Smile

What makes each wedding photographer different?  There are many answers to this question and most of them revolve around Picture Quality, Style and Pricing.  Different clients are attracted to various styles and certain prices depending upon their budget.  Overall picture quality is hard to rank because it is so subjective.  Each engaged couple may like something different depending upon their individual tastes and background.  Obviously there are all kinds of budgets out there.  Some people have tons of money to spend on their wedding and others don’t even want to pay for a professional wedding photographer.  We see people at San Francisco city hall all the time with friends taking pictures using cell phones!  Again, there are many different opinions, finances and style preferences.  However, the one thing that everyone seems to like is a courteous, friendly and fun city hall wedding photographer.  In the photo below you can see my photography partner Toni Bailey with one of our couples.

Toni with one of our couples
Toni with one of our couples

Wedding Photography with a Smile

Ever notice how much easier it is to smile for the camera when the person taking the photo is smiling too?  Try it sometime. Take a photo of a friend or loved one and scowl at them or just act serious while asking them to smile.  Take some pictures and store them for future comparisons.   Now, take pictures a couple days later of the same friends or relatives, but this time when you take the picture and ask them to smile, be sure to be beaming yourself!  Save those pictures also and the compare the results.  What will you see?  The subjects in the second set of pictures with the smiling photographer will have more natural smiles and be more at ease.  The first group with the frowning  photographer will also be displaying smiles.  But look closely and you will a difference.  More strain and stress, but mostly more fake.  This especially works well if you know your subjects well and can easily identify when this friend or relative is faking it.

This is how we run our San Francisco City Hall wedding photography service.   We do everything we can to maintain a friendly  environment and remain upbeat.  But most of all, WE SMILE during the  photos.  Try it sometime, it works!!

How to Plan Your SF City Hall Wedding

This is a quick step-by-step planning guide for your upcoming San Francisco City Hall Wedding.  We receive many questions about what to do and how to prepare for a civil ceremony in this amazing historic building.    The obvious first thing to do is choose a wedding date, we would suggest avoiding Fridays if possible because there are so many tourists and other  weddings going on that day.  Also, the wedding photography portion of your day will be much more challenging with so many people everywhere.  Once you have your date you can:

  1. Decide whether you want a reserved space at city hall by paying $1,000 and putting a deposit down on either the Mayors Balcony or 4th Floor North Gallery.  You can do this by contacting the Events department at city hall by clicking the link.  The advantage of doing this is that you will have a 1 hour roped off section of city hall all to yourself, complete with chairs for your guests.  Most people only do this if they are planning on many guests.  San Francisco city hall limits it’s standard weddings to 8 guests.
  2. Book your marriage license appointment by clicking this link.  This appointment should be made at least 1 hour before your ceremony.  The County Clerk says you can just book it 30 minutes ahead, but my experience is that this is rushing it a bit.   Be prepared to bring your current Identification and any other legal forms you might want to present.  If you have a pending divorce, be sure to bring those documents just in case.  You can use a Passport or Driver’s license for identification, just be sure that they are unexpired.  City Hall will not accept out of date ID’s.
  3. If you decided against paying for the reserved space but still want your wedding here, its now time to book your civil ceremony at City Hall.   If possible, try to choose a Tuesday or a Wednesday for less crowds.  We understand that many people do not have this option, but if you can, its well worth the smaller crowds.  The time of your ceremony matters also, we suggest early morning or late afternoon for best access to all of the building without tourists everywhere around you.
  4. Hire a professional wedding photographer!  This is not just a pitch to have you book us, we are very passionate about the importance of recording this all important life milestone.  Why rely on your friends Iphone camera?  There are many great city hall wedding photographers available and some have excellent pricing.  Just look around or talk to us!
  5. On the day of your wedding, be sure to bring your ID and license if already obtained).  We have had some couples forget to bring their Identification or assume that they don’t need to again.  But you do!  We also encourage the bride to bring walking shoes, the floors are marble and will take their toll after strolling through the building for a while.

Bride and Groom at the County Clerks office at city hall
Bride and Groom at the County Clerks office

Ready to Check in at the County Clerks office in San Francisco
Ready to Check in at the County Clerks office

Enjoy your wedding day in this historical wedding venue!