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!

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

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

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!

Living in San Francisco

The San Francisco Life

Kissing in Front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Kissing in Front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

I am a rare breed, an actual San Francisco native.  I was born in the city and lived there for many years with my family.  Our neighborhood happened to be the famous Haight Ashbury District and I lived there in in the 1960’s during the Hippie era.  I remember walking through the Pan Handle and literally stepping over Hippies lying in the streets as I walked with my classmates to school.   It was quite an experience and a different time.   We used to play outside by ourselves with no fear.  I could walk home from school by myself and we didn’t think it was any big deal.  As a young adult I attended the University of San Francisco, which was walking distance from where I lived as a child.  So what does any of this have to do with wedding photography in San Francisco?  Keep reading to find out….

San Francisco as Inspiration

The San Francisco community fancies itself as an art society.   People here are very in touch with their “right brain”.  What does this mean?  Right brainers are focused on creative pursuits and art.  San Francisco inspires artists to create.  It’s hard to define, but I just know that many of the best San Francisco wedding photographers are concerned with providing their clients with more than just traditional images.   They want to use San Francisco as a backdrop for amazing creative and  historic images.  It is easy to do here, because the city offers so much.  Having grown up here, I find myself very much in tune with the beauty and history all around us.  We love taking our clients to beautiful places like The Palace of Fine Arts and the Legion of Honor.  We want to show our couples different aspects of living in San Francisco through wedding photography.   When we take couples on a photo tour of the city, we talk about the lifestyle and also show examples.  When it comes to San Francisco, it is more than just the beauty, it’s the culture and  the history.   I know it may be over reaching a little bit, I truly think that many of our brides and grooms like to  feel the whole San Francisco persona.

Christmas at city hall in San Francisco Christmas at city hall in San Francisco

San Francisco Landmarks

The city has so many amazing landmarks and historical locations to take our couples.  The Grand Staircase in the photo above is one of these San Francisco Landmarks.  Tourists flock to see it and take pictures of it.  It makes for a great wedding photography background as you can see.  On any given day, you will find many San Francisco residents enjoying the beauty and elegance of these places not only in city hall but outside.  This is part of the San Francisco lifestyle, a very easy going pace when compared to other large cities.  Hanging out in Golden Gate park, spending time by the Painted Ladies or just  walking on Baker Beach.  These activities are all part of how people live in the City by the Bay.  The fact that I grew up here makes me even more motivated to show visitors what a fun place it is to live.  It certainly is a great place to be a wedding photographer.

experiencing the San Francisco lifestyle Experiencing the San Francisco lifestyle

We look forward to sharing our vision of San Francisco with all of our clients, brides and grooms or engaged couples whether they live here or are visiting from other countries.

Best City Hall Wedding Photography

San Francisco City Hall Wedding Photography for over 8 years with 400+ marriages creatively photographed

Best San Francisco Wedding Photography at City Hall
San Francisco Wedding Photography at City Hall

Asian Wedding at the Palace of Fine  Arts
Asian Wedding at the Palace of Fine Arts

What are some of the best ways to approach City Hall wedding photography?

  1. Challenging Lighting. One of the trickiest things about taking pictures at San Francisco city hall is the lighting.  Depending upon where you are in the building the lighting can either be amazing or extremely tough to deal with.  For example, the Mayor’s Balcony is difficult because just about any angle shooting away from the balcony towards the rotunda involves heavy back lighting.  The Mayor’s Balcony is not only fairly dark, but everything around it is bathed in natural light.  We often see amateur wedding photographers attempting to shoot their subjects by the railing with out any lighting and ultimately they will mostly just get silhouette images or blown out backgrounds.  Another challenging place to shoot is in the Rotunda area where the city hall ceremonies occur.  The predominate light in this area is from overhead.  So if you shoot in almost any direction your subjects will have “raccoon eyes”.  If you are taking pictures in the Rotunda, position yourself with your back to the Mayor’s Balcony and you will get some nice light.  If you have flash, use it!
  2. Crowd Control.  We jokingly refer to this as crowd control but there is some truth to this city hall wedding photography challenge.  The fact is that San Francisco city hall is a public building.  Every single person in the building has the same right to be there as you.   Yes, even if you are getting married!  The best way to handle this simply is to go where people aren’t.  It sounds simple, but virtually every non-professional wedding photographer we see ignores this advice.  They spend the whole photography session on the Grand Staircase as though this was the only place in all of city hall for wedding photography.  The fact is, there are 4 floors that ALL have great backgrounds and architecture to explore.    As you take your couple around the building, keep your eye on the Staircase so when it clears off, you can run down and get some pictures.  Meanwhile, you might find that there are some very nice other locations to photograph.
  3. Leave the Family Behind. We often see amateur city hall wedding photographers taking their whole wedding party around the building with them when shooting the bride and groom.  This is not a good idea for several reasons.  Most importantly, it will make your couple inhibited as they pose for their city hall wedding pictures with an audience. Inevitably, some of the relatives with shout out suggestions and make comments.  This is distracting to the photographer and the subject.  The other issue is that the family and friends will get in the way of your backgrounds.  You will spend more time trying to move the group then actually posing the couple.  Ask the Wedding Party to either wait in the Mint Cafe or just in a neutral area somewhere.  It will make your city hall wedding photography session go much smoother.
  4. Timing is Everything.   I understand that not everyone can control the timing of their San Francisco city hall wedding photography session.  There are many factors that get in the way, most importantly the time of the wedding ceremony.  Also many couples are restricted because of work schedules and can not choose the best days of the week.  However, if some of these things ARE in your control, then by all means choose the best times of the day and best days of the week.  Avoid Fridays if possible because of extreme city hall crowds.   Tuesdays and Wednesdays seem to be the best days of the week for less people.  If you have control of your booking time, then try for early times or late.  There will be less people and especially tourists at those times.

Asian Wedding at SF City Hall
Asian Wedding at SF City Hall

Why Book a Pro Wedding Photographer Part 2

Continuing from our most recent post about why to hire a Professional City Hall Wedding Photographer:

Best City Hall Photographer
Best City Hall Photographer

Guiding you through the Process

This is one advantage that most brides and grooms don’t think about.  Yes, we know how to help you with the whole city hall wedding process.  From procuring your wedding license to checking in at the County Clerks’s office and then finally the ceremony.  Is this kind of assistance really necessary?  Probably not, but if you want to truly enjoy your wedding day, it makes sense to let someone else handle the complicated process of having your civil ceremony at city hall.  We find that most of our couples really are at a loss of where to go and what to do on the day of their ceremony.  When do you bring in the witness?  Why are we checking in?  Where do we get married?  These are common questions we are asked when we first meet our engaged couples on the day of their wedding.  To make the day go smoothly, we simply guide the couple through each step and stay with them the whole time.  Our couples love this and it makes their special day care free.

Posing the  Married Couple at City Hall

While it is true that your friend or relative who is “really good with a camera” may be able to take high quality images that are in focus, chances are they will not know how to pose the couple.   This is where most amateur wedding photographers fall down on the job.  Not coming up with fun and unique poses and more importantly, not knowing how to make the bride look her best.  Brides come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and each one of them deserves a professional wedding photographer who knows how to accentuate the good parts and hide the less than perfect aspects of the bride’s look.  This is not something that just anyone can do without any training or experience.  A professional wedding photography can take one look at the couple and know exactly how to handle the posing.   Your wedding day is too important of an event to leave to chance.

Final Products – Wedding Albums and Prints

What happens when your San Francisco City Hall wedding is over?  If you hired a professional wedding photographer, you will receive edited images within a month or less in most cases.  We deliver ours to our married couples in 3 weeks.  If you have your Uncle Bob photograph your wedding, when will you receive the photos?  When will he get to it?  With they even be professionally edited?  There are many reading this article right now thinking, big deal, we can do all of this ourselves.    The truth of the matter is that statistics show that most wedding couples do absolutely nothing with their wedding digital files.  Sure, they may post a few on Social Media and maybe even make a print on their home Inkjet printer.  But is this really how that should be handled?  We offer our couples retouched professionally  processed prints and beautiful wedding albums as options.  Many of our clients take advantage of this.  Even those that do not are assured of receiving a finished product after their wedding.  Fully edited and perfectly exposed wedding pictures!

Elegant pose at SF City Hall done by a professional wedding photographer
Elegant pose at SF City Hall

Flowers at SF City Hall

I am writing this blog post because we have had a number of brides at city hall show up without flowers. San Francisco city hall is an amazing place to have your wedding ceremony. The architecture alone is incredible but there is even more to this story. Because of the way the building is oriented, the natural light can pretty amazing at times. As a City Hall wedding photographer, you learn where to go at certain times of the day to capture this light. The windows are also incredible, not only because of the light they let in, but also the designs on the windows themselves. The only small problem with photographing weddings here is that the backgrounds are all very neutral. You have a mixture of white and gray and many shades in between. For this reason flowers make an incredible difference. Just adding that little splash of color can really enhance a wedding photo here.

City Hall Image with Flowers
City Hall Image with Flowers

As you can see from the above photo, the image is enhanced by the color added from the bride’s bouquet. Even the boutonniere worn by the groom makes a difference. We are able to produce wonderful images even without flowers, but we highly suggest you consider bringing even a small arrangement. I honestly think that some City Hall brides dont even think about the possibility of flowers because its a civil ceremony. But San Francisco city hall is so different because of the elegance of the building! Here is a link to a city hall florist that we have liked in the past just in case you need ideas.

Another fun thing about bringing a Bouquet is you can throw it.

Another fun thing about bringing a bouquet to your city hall wedding is that you can throw it! Its kind of obvious who was going to catch it this time, but still a fun shot. For more information about our SF City Hall Wedding Photography service check out our Yelp Reviews. We feel that it is more important to carefully read the reviews than to look at the rating. We always try to help our brides and grooms out with the process of getting married at City Hall and this is reflected in our Reviews. Providing advice on flowers is just one aspect of how we try to assist our Newlyweds.

Embrace the Crowds at SF City Hall

This short blog post is going to run counter to everything you read and hear about San Francisco city hall wedding photography.  All we ever talk about as wedding photographers at this venue is how to avoid the crowds and trying to not have people in the background of our photos.  While there is some merit to this,  I am going to discuss a different approach.  Yes, city hall is a public building and the tourists have every right to be there even if they sometimes seem to not notice that they are in the way.  My brides and grooms are always asking me the best times of the day to avoid people and also the slowest day of the week at city hall.   I certainly understand their concerns and I do try to accommodate their wishes.  But there is another option……

Love the Crowds at City Hall

No I have not gone nuts.  But recently something happened that made me think.  We were in the middle of a wedding photography shoot and suddenly got disrupted by a protest march.  Normally the reaction would be for me to take my couple and go somewhere else to avoid the noise and the people .  But the groom had different ideas…. He wanted a photo of him and his wife right in front of the protest gathering.  In fact, when I took the picture he raised his fist as though he was part of the protest.  I have to admit that this picture turned out great and was not only fun, but also instructive.  Sure, the goal is to get creative and romantic photos in this great building.  But why not get some pictures that show very clearly that this is a public building.    When I think about it, I see lots of crazy and fun things that happen every day we are at city hall taking pictures of our newly married couples.   What kinds of things?  Here is a list:

  • Quinceneara Photo Shoots – These brightly colored 15 year old girls come into city hall with their photographers and take over certain parts of the venue.  Their photographers often take way too long on the Grand Staircase and bring large lighting equipment.  We avoid them as much as we can.
  • Protest Marches – San Francisco city hall is a popular place for protests and at times they come in the building.  Even if they don’t they can often easily be found right outside at the entrance.
  • School Tours – City Hall is “invaded” quite frequently by mobs of school kids touring the facility and learning about government.  Depending upon their ages they can be an unruly bunch!
  • Dramatic Portrait Shoots –  Professional photographers will often take their subjects to city hall to get photos.  The subject matter can range from ballerina dancers to people dressed as animals.
  • Service Dogs – City Hall allows Service dogs to enter the building with their companions.  Sometimes causing some pretty crazy moments as the dogs react to their surroundings.
  • Political Speeches –  Yes, San Francisco city hall attracts and arranges for candidates and politicians to come in the building and make their case.

There are many more examples, but you get the point.  Rather than trying to always avoid these things, we can sometimes use them as a backdrop to our wedding photography shoot.  Putting the couple in a natural setting and showing what was going on that day can add yet another memory to their special day.  The humor in the situation will also help the couple not feel so unhappy about the disruption.  We will still get their great romantic pictures, but we will also add a little fun!

SF City Hall Wedding Photographer

Dance Dip at SF City Hall
Dance Dip at SF City Hall

We worked with a great couple last week and I wanted to talk about it while it was fresh in my mind.  Yuan and Tracy chose our Golden Gate package which provided them with 1 additional San Francisco photography location after we finished at City Hall.  They choose to go to the Legion of Honor and we drove them there.  One of the things I offer couples who choose this location is the chance to take a quick photo of the Golden Gate bridge in addition to the Legion of Honor.  This is because it so close by and easy to access with just a short drive.  In fact, if it is a nice day, you would actually walk to the second location.  We often take couples to the 17th hole at Lincoln Park golf course to get the bridge picture, but this time we went to Lands End.  What a great place to get a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge!  Also present at Lands End are nice walking trails and beautiful tall trees.  The Lands End location is not walking distance away however.

The Grand Staircase at city hall in Sepia Tone
The Grand Staircase at city hall in Sepia Tone

City Hall Photography Tour

Before we embarked upon our journey to the Legion of Honor we of course needed to complete our wedding photography tour at San Francisco City Hall.  It was very important to Yuan and Tracy to get a shot of their entire wedding party in front of City Hall’s famed Grand Staircase.  Fortunately, they booked a later ceremony  (3:00 pm) and thus city hall was starting to clear out shortly after we were ready to start their professional wedding photography.  After completing some smaller family combinations, we took everyone down to the bottom of the Staircase including the Bride and Groom.  We managed to have some moments where the staircase became relatively clear of tourists and other weddings allowing us to get a clear shot!  See below to check out their image

Some SF city hall wedding photography
Some SF city hall wedding photography

Once we got this all important photo, we took the couple around the building to take more formal wedding photography.  The shot below was done in the 2nd floor hallway.  We always like to do some fun shots with our brides and grooms to get them warmed up.  We also wanted to figure out if they were interested in doing some more fun photos or preferred to keep it more simple.  We always allow our clients to let us know the style of wedding photography they want.

Affordable Package

The package that Yuan and Tracy choose provided them with 2.5 hours of coverage with that extra location already discussed above. This is the least expensive of our Tour Packages.  Once we completed their wedding photography we took them to the San Francisco location of the reception, Jardiniere.

The Legion of Honor in San Francisco
The Legion of Honor in San Francisco