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 # 1 – Treat 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!)
Often times there is more to photographing a San Francisco city hall wedding then just making nice pictures. The day of the wedding can be stressful and it is no different at city hall. Though truthfully, there is less to go wrong because with a civil ceremony you avoid problems with setting up the reception, food issues and choosing the perfect wedding favors. We recently photographed a wedding a city hall where we are able to help both the bride and groom prepare for the ceremony. There were a few minor complications and we were there to help!
Groom’s Pants Too Long
The groom asked me while waiting to check in at the County Clerk if I thought his pants were too long. They did seem to be a bit long, but what could be done this close to their civil ceremony? I remembered back to how I used to “hem” my own pants temporily with tape and suggested that to the groom. After some discussion, I went into the Clerk’s office and asked one of my friends who works the front desk if we could borrow some tape. After some visual measurements and approval by the bride we managed to put a nice temporary hem on the pants and they looked great!
Bride’s Eyelash Problems
As this was going on, I noticed the bride struggling with getting her eyelashes looking the way she wanted them, but there was nobody to hold the mirror for her because the Groom was busy “hemming” his pants. So without the bride asking me, I grabbed the mirror for her and held it while she did the finishing touches on her eyes. Just a simple gesture really and in no way heroic, but it was much appreciated by both of our clients.
I never really gave it a second thought until a few weeks later I received a 5 star review from the newlyweds about their SF city hall wedding. One of the highlights of this Yelp review was the bride mentioning both of the problems above and how we helped. Again, these were relatively easy tasks, but it reminded me how important it is to be there for your city hall wedding photography client in all ways possible. Of course, we still needed to deliver great photos of their wedding, but the sometimes the little things get noticed and appreciated the most!
Celebrating after the Wedding! 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
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.
We photographed Cheri and Wesley’s San Francisco City Hall wedding on 10/13 and had never met them prior to the wedding. When I arrived at City Hall, I contacted Cheri so we could meet prior to the wedding. During our phone conversation Cheri told me: “Don’t worry, you will recognize me, I am pretty sure that I am the only bride in the building wearing a dress with black and white polka dots!” She was definitely correct, we spotted her right away! San Francisco City Hall is a great place to wear an outfit like this, everything seems to work here and the more colorful the better.
Polka Dot Wedding Dress at SF City Hall
Cheri’s attitude matched the fun in her dress and we had a great time at their wedding. Wesley and her came all the way from Alaska to have their nuptials at one of the best wedding venues on the west coast. They talked about the affordability and historic beauty of city hall and how they really wanted to have their wedding here. They chose our City Hall Tour Package which provided them with 4 hours of photographic coverage and 3 locations in San Francisco. They choose to go to the Palace of Fine Arts, the Golden Gate Bridge and then finish up at Ghirardelli Square.
Fun Wedding Dress at the Grand Staircase
The weather was gorgeous in typical October “Indian Summer” fashion in San Francisco. We drove the couple to each location and had a fantastic time. We love it when our clients choose the San Francisco Tour package. It’s affordable, fun and you really get to know the client. We find that the end of the Hyde Street Line is one of the best places to take good Cable Car photos. The Cable Cars line up here to wait to go in for their next load of passengers and so there is a nice opportunity to post the newlyweds while waiting. In the image below, we asked the couple to hang out a little from the Trolley to make it appear like they were riding. Definitely a fun shot to go with our bride’s fun dress.
San Francisco City Hall Wedding Photography for over 8 years with 400+ marriages creatively photographed
Asian Wedding at the Palace of Fine Arts
What are some of the best ways to approach City Hall wedding photography?
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!
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.
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.
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.
I thought it would be fun to do an ongoing series on some of our favorite past weddings and couples. We have had so many great experiences in our 400 plus San Francisco city hall weddings that it is really hard to focus on just a few, but some do stand out due to the fun time we had. We will feature 2 weddings with each blog post. To see more wedding please go to our CITY HALL HOME PAGE
San Francisco City Hall Staircase Waving Goodbye
Tracy and James – City Hall 2013
This couple was one among our first 10 San Francisco city hall weddings and was really one of our best to that point. We were just starting to learn some of the secrets to finding the best spots at city hall and what time of the day to shoot at particular locations. Tracey especially was up for anything and wanted to try lots of new poses and ideas. We did extreme dip poses, Window shots and some new Grand Staircase ideas. A bonus for this wedding is that Tracy submitted some of our shots to the J. Crew catolog and got our wedding featured on that publication for a few years. Here are a few shots from this great wedding.
Deep Dance Dip Post at City Hall San Francisco window image Leg Kick on the Mayors Balcony
April and Michael – City Hall 2014
This wedding was one of our first marriages where the couple asked us to provide them with extensive yet affordable wedding photography coverage that also included taking pictures at their Reception. We provided April and Michael with a special package that included full city hall wedding coverage and 3 locations around San Francisco. We finished up in Downtown SF at their reception site. Throughout this extensive wedding photography tour they were always a delight to work with and so much fun.
Ring Exchange at City Hall ceremony Wedding Reception in San Francisco
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.
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 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.
Another amazing bride and groom at San Francisco city hall. Katie and Kyle reserved the 4th Floor North Gallery to allow all of their guests to sit down in chairs. They also roped off the entire side of the floor to allow the bridal party to have privacy from other weddings and tourists. The cost for this is $1,000 for 1 hour of reserved time. They did a traditional wedding procession with the bride being led into the ceremony by her parents. The happy groom watching as they came in. After a 20 minute ceremony and romantic vows, the couple was married!
The bride was very well prepared with a list of family photos that she provided us. We love it when the couple can give us a predetermined list of family groupings. It truly makes that part of the wedding go much fast allowing more time for bride and groom formal photos. We began our shoot once we completed the family portraits, taking the couple around the building on what we call our “city hall photo tour”. See below for some sample photos of our wedding photography shoot.
City Hall bride checks her wedding gown
We spent around 45 minutes going from floor to floor at San Francisco city hall and taking pictures at many of our favorite locations. It was unseasonably warm for an early February wedding so we took it slow to keep our bride fresh. We were also quite pleased with the lack of crowds for a Thursday. Normally Thursdays are the second busiest day at city hall, but early February is a slower time here and we were blessed with no crowds and the opportunity to get some great images. With both the bride and groom letting us know that they were athletic, we asked them if they would be willing to do a lift shot. We wanted Kyle to pick up Katie and lift her high in the air in front of the city hall sign. Here is the fantastic result!
We really enjoyed this wedding and helped this couple make memories for years to come.
Valentines Day is coming soon and City Hall is going to have it’s usual mass wedding party. The last few years at city hall in San Francisco, the County Clerks office has made Valentines day into a fun marriage celebration. Rather than have Brides and Grooms check in at the County Clerks office they set up a booth in the North Gallery on the 1st floor so they can handle the larger volume of people expected. On Valentines day, City Hall gives engaged couples 2 options: 1. You can set an appointment to have your wedding at the time you want it and go through the normal process, but just in a different location or, 2. You can walk in with no appointment and still get married, you may just have to wait a bit. In the past, they have offered this service for free. I assume that it will be the same on February 14, 2019.
On normal weekdays, the County Clerk’s office supplies 1 officiant to do weddings throughout the day. They are able to perform 3 ceremonies in the Rotunda every 30 minutes or so. However, on Valentines Day, City Hall brings in multiple marriage commissioners to handle the larger work load. It will not be unusual to see 5 or 6 of them at any given time. They are all volunteers so it is very nice of them to do this for the public on this special occasion. I expect to be photographing at least one wedding on Valentines Day if not more. I still have not quite figured out how the general public finds out about this special service offered on the 14th. There is no mention of it on the San Francisco city hall website. In any case, it is certainly a fun event and maybe I will see you there!
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.
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
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.
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.