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!
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!
One of the first things our clients ask us when we begin our City Hall wedding photography shoot is the sign picture. They all ask: “Can we do the City Hall sign photo?” I always let them know that of course we will, but it is best to save it for last because we avoid having to through building security twice. I remember one particular groom seemed agitated during the whole city hall photography tour and I finally asked him if he was OK. He told me he couldn’t understand why we were not taking a photo with the sign, but didn’t want to seem pushy. Once I explained to him why we save it for last he felt a lot better.
There are many variations to this ending shot. You can do a simple posed shot and walking shot or celebration photo. No matter what we end up doing with each couple, I think it is important for this photo to say something about the bride and groom. Some couples want to be animated and be celebratory. Others prefer a more traditional posed image.
Recently we have starting doing a few photos of the couple inside the building behind the sign. Of course taking the photo from this location causes the words to be reversed. Sometimes we keep them reversed, but others we have to flip it around using Photoshop. The 2 images below were both flipped:
Some of our couples prefer to do more natural photos in front of the sign. We will ask them to walk out of the building and raise their arms in a celebratory fashion. “Yay, we did it! We got married at San Francisco city hall!” These types of shots always give you the most bang for your buck in terms of showing emotion and fun.
We also try to match our couple to the type of San Francisco City Hall sign pose. For example, in the photo below, we thought it would be fun to spoof the famous movie “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
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. This is because it so close by and easy to access. 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.
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.
September is underway in San Francisco and it is one of the most beautiful times of the year. San Francisco residents tend to call the time period between early September and mid October “Indian Summer”. I will skip the technical explanation of why the fog is so thick during the summer and starts to gradually go away in September, but for those interested check out this link about San Francisco Weather . The most important thing to know is that September is a great month to explore the city and head to the beaches. If you happen to be getting married at San Francisco City Hall or anywhere else in the city for that matter, you owe it yourself to have your wedding photographer take some outside pictures. For those couples who were worried about trying to visit the Golden Gate Bridge during the summer, feat not! By mid month, there will be very little fog along the coast and the bridge will be as bright and beautiful as ever! Fall winds will make the air super clear also, leading to some amazing photo opportunities.
September Photo Opportunities in San Francisco
Everyone always thinks about the Golden Gate Bridge, but what other great locations become more visible in September minus the fog? Here is a list of recommendations for places in San Francisco to visit in the fall months:
Baker Beach – We tend to avoid Baker Beach during the summer because of the fog. It is the most risky place to take our brides and groom that time of the year because the view is from the Ocean looking in. Since the fog tends to roll in from the water, the bridge is often covered from that angle, but still visible from the Bay side. But in September with the fog mostly gone, The Golden Gate bridge can look spectacular from Baker Beach.
The Marin Headlands – This view is actually not in San Francisco, but it is a quick trip across the Golden Gate bridge and just like Baker Beach, is on the ocean side. Here are some photo examples of this angle to the Bridge along with others: Favorite Places for Golden Gate Bridge Gazing
Lands End – This is one of my new favorite places to look at the bridge. It includes a nice short hiking trail and some amazing scenery. For more information regarding this spectacular view point, click the Lands End Link provided.
To summarize, September is an amazing month to be in San Francisco! Take advantage of this great time and explore this beautiful city.
The city hall website specifically states that the maximum number of guests allowed at standard civil ceremonies is 6. The rules go on to explain that if you DO bring more than 6, city hall reserves the right to have them removed from the building. The rules also talk about your guests being a nuisance and disrupting city hall business. Everyone seems to know that this rule is not enforced so people often bring large numbers of guests to city hall weddings. I recently photographed a wedding where the couple brought close to 30 guests including bridesmaids and groomsmen. The guest were loud and didn’t really care about anyone else including the other weddings going on. In fact, they had a guy who played a trumpet when the couple came out of the clerk’s office.
So the question is, should you as an engaged couple violate the rules and invite anyone you want and as many people as you want? My opinion is that couples getting married at San Francisco city hall should, at the very least, respect the spirit behind the rule. So if you are going to go over the 6 guests, don’t go way over. Talk to your guests about not being disruptive and make sure they understand that others are getting married at the same time. If every couple brought 25 guests the place would be a mad house. The rules are there for a reason, to try to keep the environment safe and quiet.
Reserved Ceremony Option
So what do you do if you have a large crowd but still want to get married at SF City Hall? Contact the Events Department and talk to them about reserving a space to have your city hall ceremony. It only costs around $1,000 and you get to have all nice section of city hall all to yourself. They even give you 2 choices. You can have your nuptials on the Mayors Balcony or The 4th Floor North Gallery. Both locations are exceptionally beautiful and provides plenty of room for the couple and their guests. You can seat up to 60 people on the 4th floor and up to 40 at the Mayors Balcony. If you bring more guests than those numbers, the remaining guests can stand. They also rope of the area to keep others out which provides your wedding a certain amount of privacy.
Keep in mind these types of options before you decide to bring your whole family and friends to a small civil ceremony. It will make your special day more enjoyable for you and your guests!
There are quite a few things to consider when bring your children to your San Francisco city hall wedding. If they are still a baby you may want to make sure that you schedule your wedding to work around their nap time. The last thing you want is to have the ceremony occur right during their most grumpy time. Make sure that you bring another adult or older sibling who can watch and entertain the baby if needed. The preference would be to choose someone who can miss the ceremony in case the baby is crying. If a family member is watching the baby they may be inclined to stick around during the ceremony which can be quite disruptive.
Involve Them in the Wedding Photos
Children seeing one of their parents getting remarried can experience some jealousy and fear. It can be a big change in their life and they are liable to wonder how they fit in to the new family. One thing you can do is to make sure to involve them significantly in the wedding photography portion of the day. Include them in as many pictures as you can to make them understand that they are important and involved in the the couple’s new life together. If possible, you may even want to try to include them in the actual city hall wedding ceremony somehow. Maybe they can hold the wedding rings or the flowers. Just don’t have them be a bystander like everyone else. This is your chance to make them feel special.
Realize their Limitations
Even though we strongly recommend getting the little ones involved on your San Francisco city hall wedding day, it’s also important to understand that they will be tired at some point. Make it part of your plan to have someone take the really small children home before they burn out. You know your kids better than anyone and so you should be able to figure out when they are going to be ready to leave. It is very important that you have someone who knows them well and can take care of them when needed. Yes, you want to make sure your kids are involved and happy, but you also need to realize that your wedding day is about the 2 of you! Make sure to set some time aside for you both!
I am going going to go out on a limb here and guess that you have rarely read one wedding photographer recommending another unless they were personally booked for your wedding date. That is about to change….
City Hall Wedding Photography by Michael has been shooting weddings for many years and we have discovered that it is more important to make sure the couple finds the right photographer for them rather than trying to gobble up all of the business we can. If after talking to the bride and groom and assessing the type of photographic styles they prefer it turns out we are not a match, we will tell them. I would say something like: “I am not sure we are the best city hall wedding photographer for you.” Why do we do this? We have plenty of business and would rather see the engaged couple work with an appropriately styled photographer for them. One that matches their preference and vision for their wedding.
Versatile Wedding Photographer
So the obvious question becomes: “Arn’t you versatile enough to adjust your style or demeanor to match your client?” The answer to this question is, yes we are are. However, if we sense that we are way off and have to completely change the way we approach your city hall wedding, then it is not fair to the bride and groom to mislead them. More importantly, there are quite few professional city hall wedding photographers out there that who probably will fit what you are looking for. After 10 years of city hall wedding photography we have met many of the top photographers and have come to respect and enjoy them. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them and often do. We also receive numerous referrals from them as well.
San Francisco City Hall
In conclusion I would just tell you that the most important thing is that you hire a professional wedding photographer. You have heard us say this before, but San Francisco City Hall, despite all it’s beauty, remains a challenging photographic venue. Even for professionals it remains a lighting challenge. Crowd control can also be difficult. Obviously, we would love it if you tried us first. If we don’t think we are a match, we will tell you so and suggest a city hall wedding photographer who is!
We had a very busy June at San Francisco City Hall. We photographed 12 weddings of different cultures and from other countries. It was an especially fun group of couples with all kinds of diversity and various nationalities. 6 of our weddings were Same-Sex. The most we have ever photographed in a single month. Some of these weddings wanted a very short coverage, just staying with the confines of San Francisco city hall. Others opted for the full treatment and so we took them all over San Francisco on one of our popular photo tours. We drove them around in our car and it became more than just a photo shoot…. We got out and enjoyed the beauty of the City by the Bay! For the most part we got pretty lucky with the weather. San Francisco can be very foggy in June, but we really only had one wedding where we had to make a slight change of plans because of the fog. We often try to take out newly married couples to Fort Point when it is really foggy because the bridge is so close. But this time even that didn’t work, we were practically under the Golden Gate Bridge but we still could not see it. So we just took our couple to the Palace of Fine Art instead and got some great images there!
Extended Wedding Photography
In addition to the many same-sex weddings, we also had some very long coverage city hall weddings in June. Many of our clients ask us to take some pictures at their wedding celebration after the ceremony. When it comes to San Francisco City Hall, we rarely do what would be considered a full scale wedding reception, but it is usually at a nice place to eat in the city. We are more than happy to accompany you to your party and get some nice candid images of cake cutting, toasts, and dancing. Whatever your celebration involves we will cover it and provide you with plenty of detail shots. Our extensive experience with full scale wedding helps us in this regard. We have photographed over 1,300 weddings in our long career. Dealing with every possible situation has given us some great experience which we are happy to share with our clients.
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.
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!!