How To Search for a City Hall Wedding Photographer

City Hall in San Francisco wedding couple
Railing image at the Grand Staircase at SF city hall

Many wedding photography Blog posts tell their readers how to choose the best wedding photographer. Certainly a good thing to know and very important, but in this post I want to help you FIND the best San Francisco city hall wedding photographer. Let’s go over some practical steps that will assist you in locating and ultimately booking a premium photographer for your wedding at SF City Hall.

  1. Google Search – When it comes to finding the best City Hall wedding photographers many people use Google with good results. Do top search results guarantee a great wedding photographer? No, but it is a start. Chances are, you will get a nice list of some of the more experienced San Francisco city hall wedding photographers. Once you have that list, start carefully researching each company. Don’t assume that top ranked sites are the best wedding photographers. Look at the photos, read the content, then decide!
  2. Yelp Research – Another thing you can do with the list that Google helped you develop is check each of the results out on Yelp. You may learn some interesting things about each company. Whenever looking at Yelp results of any kind, be sure to not just focus on the ratings. It is just as important to read about each prospect and see what people like best about them. The quality of the city hall wedding photographs is important, but how does the professional act at your wedding? Are they easy to work with? These types of questions can usually be answered on Yelp. In addition, you can actually do your search right on Yelp and check out those results!
  3. Contact other Brides and Grooms – Start asking around and you might be surprised at what you discover. SO MANY people get married at San Francisco city hall, I find that just about everyone locally either knows someone who has been married at city hall or has themselves! You will be pleasantly shocked to hear how many of your friends know something about finding great wedding photographers. I just met a couple through mutual friends and told them I was a professional SF city hall wedding photographer and they told me that they had been married there themselves less than 4 years ago!
  4. Talk to the City Hall Event Department – The Event department has a list of approved wedding photographers that they can refer if you ask. Generally, they won’t offer up recommendations, but are happy to provide you with options should you choose to inquire. Their suggestions are based upon years of working successfully with a few professional city hall wedding photographers.
Golden Grand Staircase at San Francisco city hall

What NOT to do: In general, it is best to avoid asking other wedding vendors for photography recommendations unless you know the person well. Many wedding vendors trade referrals in order to help each other out. So this really tells you nothing about quality or dependability.

City Hall Wedding Photographers Perspective Part 2

This is part 2 of my own perspective of what it is like to photograph weddings at San Francisco city hall. In the first part of this post, I talked about the lifestyle changes and advantages of being a San Francisco city hall wedding photographer. Now let’s explore the actual benefits in terms of the daily routine.

San Francisco Wedding Photography on the 4th floor of city hall

More Time with the Bride and Groom

This certainly is the part we like best! A typical wedding on a weekend can last about 9 hours from Bridal prep until the last dance. So one would think that there are all kinds of opportunities to capture wonderful pictures of the bride and groom Well, when compared to city hall weddings, this could not be further from the truth. When engaged couples book us for San Francisco city hall, they choose a level of coverage. Even our lowest package in terms of price and coverage time gives us more time with the bride and groom then we would get at a big wedding. It is not uncommon for us to be able to spend 45 minutes with the happy newlyweds after their city hall ceremony. We would LOVE to have this amount of time with our couple at a full weekend wedding. Ask any full scale San Francisco wedding photographer and they will tell you the same thing. We are lucky to have 20 minutes with the bride and groom for photos. This 20 minutes is usually sandwiched between the family pictures and dinner service at the reception. It is frequently very rushed and stressful to all involved. A typical full wedding day is loaded with events and yes, they all need to be covered by the wedding photographer. But what I really love about city hall weddings is the amount of time devoted to JUST taking pictures of the bride and groom alone.

Our San Francisco City Hall Couples WANT Photos

If a San Francisco city hall couple books us to photograph their wedding, they are doing it because they really want great photos. You might be asking, doesn’t every couple? The answer to this is, sometimes. Many couples who book us for a big wedding do it because they are either forced to by relatives or feel that it is important to record the event for the future. It is more about documenting all that happened during the day instead of capturing artistic photos of the bride and groom. A couple that books a city hall wedding photographer pretty much knows that are not going to be that many events to document throughout the day. There is no cake cutting and no first dance. There is no bouquet toss and know speeches. The coverage they book us for includes ceremony coverage (5 minutes tops) and then photos around the building. So we know that our City Hall couples want great wedding pictures and we are more than happy to oblige.

Affordable San Francisco Wedding Photography

I honestly love giving my clients bargains. I really feel that San Francisco city hall wedding photography is a great deal compared to large wedding coverage. It makes us feel good as photographers to provide our clients with so much more coverage time for their money. So this benefits both the client and us. We have for a long time explained this to our clients and we want them to understand it and take advantage of it. Our clients have the opportunity to book some of the best San Francisco city hall wedding photographers for under $1,000. Everybody wins!

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!

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

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!