Engagement Portraits City Hall Wedding

Many of our San Francisco City Hall wedding couples like us to photograph a formal engagement session prior to their marriage.  We can make a package for any couple that includes a San Francisco engagement session at any of the popular city locations.  Our most popular location continues to be The Palace of Fine Arts, but there are many others.  We take our couples to Russian  Hill, North Beach and the Legion of Honor to name just  few.  Believe it or not, we even sometimes do our sessions at San Francisco City Hall!

Engagement Session in Marin County

Our most recent engagement shoot occurred in Marin County at Cavallo Point close to Sausalito.  This was a fantastic location for the session especially with it’s unique angles to the Golden Gate bridge and the view of San Francisco.  In the image below, we placed our future bride and groom on  the Break Water with the bridge in the background.  It was about 1 hour before sunset when we set this up.

Golden Gate Bridge from Cavallo Point

Golden Gate Bridge from Cavallo Point

From this angle we found a great looking cliff that was right up against the San Francisco Bay.  We placed our couple up on the cliff and took a series of images of them with a few different suggested poses.

Engagement portrait session overlooking San Francisco
Engagement portrait session overlooking San Francisco

We finished up our shoot in the bar at the Cavallo Point Lodge.  A very cute bar and one of our couple’s favorites. It turned out that this bar was one of their favorite stopping points over the past few years.  So what a great place to finish up the session.   We look forward to photographing their San Francisco City Hall wedding in May of 2018.  To see more images of city hall weddings and engagement sessions click on our City Hall Gallery Link

Cavallo Point Lodge bar
Cavallo Point Lodge bar

City Hall Weddings are Affordable

Great Wedding Value

San Francisco City Hall Weddings are a great value!  Where else can you have access to an amazingly beautiful Wedding Venue for under $100?  Yes, it is true!  It only costs $83 to have your wedding in the Rotunda area in city hall and the County Clerk even provides a free Wedding Officiant to perform your ceremony.  They call these officiants Deputy Marriage Commissioners and they dress up in robes and look like judges.  The fact that they are all volunteers is unknown to many, but it is part of the reason that you can get married in this building for such a great price.  Many of the other venues available throughout San Francisco can cost thousands of dollars and still do not match the beauty of City Hall.  The obvious downside of City Hall weddings is that you have to share the building with the general public, but even this is not such a terrible thing.  In this wedding photographer’s opinion, it can be part of the fun.  The only problem comes when City Hall schedules a special event on your wedding day.  This is rare and the building is so large, you can go to other places and still have a nice wedding ceremony even if a large event is set for your day.

Convenient Wedding Receptions

A big part of the expense of any San Francisco wedding is the reception.   When you book a wedding you generally need a venue that can supply you with both a place to get married and also somewhere to eat.  The exception to this is if you get married in a church.  Obviously, if you are planning on a church wedding, this article doesn’t apply.   What many of our City Hall clients like to do is schedule their city hall nuptials in the Rotunda and then book us for wedding photography after.  Meanwhile, their guests gather at one of the many nearby restaurants that specialize in city hall wedding receptions.   There are many fantastic  places to celebrate and all our walking distance away from San Francisco city hall.  We have mentioned these eateries in other blog posts, please refer to Places to Eat Near City Hall for more details.

Inexpensive City Hall Wedding Photography

This is one of the key features of city hall wedding affordability.  One of the major expenses of any wedding is the professional wedding photographer.  The best photographers in San Francisco can run anywhere from $2,000 up to $6,000 for full wedding coverage.  These same wedding photographers offer their services to City Hall brides and groom for a fraction of this cost.  Many San Francisco City Hall photographers have discount pricing that starts at $500.  Yes, you are only getting them for an hour or 2, but that is really all you need.  The most experienced professionals will take you on a tour of the building and follow that up with the chance to be driven around  San Francisco for more photos.   A fantastic opportunity to work with some of the most accomplished wedding photographers in the Bay Area at this very picturesque venue!

Here are a few samples of the types of photos you can get at this amazing venue.

North Gallery Dance Dip Image

North Gallery Dance Dip Image

City Hall Grand Staircase Image

Best Wedding Florists in San Francisco

We constantly are asked before our San Francisco city hall wedding photography bookings to suggest great local florists.  Although there are none that we work with exclusively, we can give you some of the more popular names that our brides have used in the past.

  • Rose Bowl Florist is by far one of the most frequently used wedding florist close to San Francisco City Hall.  Probably the main reason for this is just that, their proximity to SF city hall.  In fact, they were walking distance away.  We have seen nothing but great reviews for this company including on their Yelp page.  We can recommend this florist without hesitation.
  • Bella Fiora is another very well known local wedding florist.  They are not as close as Rose Bowl, but do an exceptional job.  Their proximity to San Francisco’s famed Nob Hill makes them a little more pricey, but with great quality.  Another shop with great Yelp reviews and quite popular with city hall brides.
  • The Floral Loft is not a florist that we have personal experience with, but we have heard good things.  They are located fairly close to city hall and have incredible Yelp Reviews with over 85 experiences documented.  Even though we cannot personally recommend them, the writing seems to be on the wall for this fine San Francisco Florist.
  • Nob Hill Florist is another San Francisco Wedding florist that we are not sure that we have personal experience with.  It definitely seems like we have had brides tell us about this company though!  Again, just looking at their Yelp page I see a couple of things.  First of all, they have nothing but 5 star reviews which is pretty incredible.  Also important is the fact that as you go through the reviews, you see many pictures of city hall weddings featured.  Not sure about the pricing on this company, but they are definitely worth checking out!

Wedding Photography at City Hall with Flowers

One of the reasons we are providing this information is that it kinds of goes along with our very strong recommendation that all brides have a bouquet for their city hall wedding.  Despite San Francisco city hall’s amazing beauty there is one small flaw – not much color.  The walls and floors are either white or gray.   Beautiful architecture for sure, but very neutral colors.  We have found that the perfect thing to set off these gorgeous backgrounds is a splash of color that is provided by a nice bouquet.  It also gives the bride something to do with her hands!

Places to Eat Near SF City Hall

We often are asked by our clients to suggest restaurants near to San Francisco City Hall.  Many of our brides and grooms want to  celebrate their wedding vows at a nearby eatery without having to get in the car and fight traffic.  As luck would have it, there are quite a few local restaurants in the vicinity of City Hall.  Some are only a couple of blocks away.  Listed below our some of our favorites in no particular order:

  • Jardiniere – Exceptional upscale cuisine with French influence.  They feature small bites elegantly prepared with a fantastic environment.  If you are looking for romantic dining this is the place to go.  They also have an amazing wine list and dedicated wine expert who will serve you the wine and discuss it with you.  A great dining experience and only 1 block from San Francisco City Hall.  Check out the Jardiniere website for more information.
  • Absinthe – Another personal favorite in the Hayes Valley area.  Absinthe is probably the place that most city hall couples choose when they want a nearby dinner celebration.  The wonderful thing about Absinthe is that it has a dedicated wedding reception facility right next to the eatery.  This spacious dining area provides the couple with excellent privacy.  The service here is amazing and the food if wonderful.  Try the French Onion Soup, it’s fantastic. The Absinthe website has a lot of excellent information.
  • Patxi’s Pizza – It is a pretty good walk from San Francisco City Hall but well worth it.  If you are looking for something much less expensive but still good food, this the place.  A much more casual dining experience, but with nice decor.  Patxi’s is known for their Chicago style pizza, but I actually prefer the smaller signature pizzas they serve.  Some Italian influence makes for some great individual style Pizzas.  Get 2 and share!  This is probably not the ideal place to bring a large wedding party, but it might be fun for a quick late lunch bite.   Patxi’s Pizza San Francisco
  • Soluna Cafe – Definitely a favorite of the city hall wedding crowd.  They host  wedding receptions there or small parties.  This is probably the closest eatery to city hall.  It’s basically right across the square and less than a 5 minute walk.  Known for the innovative cuisine and great bar set up.  This place receives very high marks from Yelp and is a personal favorite.  To obtain more information please check out the Soluna website.

Why Book a Professional Wedding Photographer at City Hall

Yes, I know you are probably thinking that you have seen this type of article over and over again.  It is usually written by frustrated  professional wedding photographers who are begging  you to understand why it is so important to hire a pro.  The author will usually go on and on about the quality of work, the superior equipment and sharper and clearer pictures.  They will also spend considerable time discussing the pitfalls of having a friend do your wedding photography because they are likely to mess things up and/or take blurry images.  When I sat down to write this article for my blog, I decided I wanted to approach it differently.  Rather than stating the obvious, I wanted to provide my audience with some unique issues that they probably didn’t realize.   This blog post is also specifically about City Hall wedding photography since that is what this blog is all about!

Safety and Security

What are some of the nightmare issues I have heard about from clients about their friends shooting weddings for others?  Corruption of data, bad Flash Cards, hard drive crashes and insufficient backup systems are among the problems we hear the most about.  Professional City Hall wedding photographers including myself have a pretty complicated back up system.  Most of our pro cameras write each image photographed to 2 cards simultaneously.  This helps to lower the odds greatly that a Card Failure or corruption will wipe out your wedding memories.  Many of the so called “Prosumer” cameras do not have this feature.  Every photo I take is written to 2 cards with one being a backup for the other.  I hold on to one of the cards without deleting it until my clients have their images in their own possession.  This eliminates the possibility of loss or other failures.

If you have Uncle Bob do your San Francisco city hall wedding photography, chances are he will take your photos and then put them on a hard drive at his home.  Or he may just give you the cards.  Does this sound like a safe way to handle your precious memories?  Certainly not!  What if you lose the cards that he gives you?  What if his Hard Drive crashes or he has a house fire?  Does he have off-premises back up?  I am sure he does not.   When I shoot a city hall wedding, my cards go directly on my Computer hard drive.   Within seconds, they are also copied to my external hard drive.   They are simultaneously backed up to an off-premises location and then eventually uploaded to your secure site for viewing.   As I previously mentioned, I also keep one of the cards until the client receives their images.  So when you hire me as your wedding photographer, your images are basically backed up in 5 differently places temporarily and 3 places permanently.   Your wedding is a precious memory, it is not worth the risk of losing everything.

Tricky SF City Hall Lighting

Yes, this is a beautiful wedding venue and a great place for wedding photography, but is it easy to take pictures here?  Not really.  The huge windows and uneven lighting can give you fits.  There are some places that are impossible to shoot without a flash because of the strong backlighting.  We often wonder how some of the people we see shooting weddings without any professional lighting can get anything resembling a good result.  There are certain places in City Hall that are very dark.  Other places have unattractive overhead lighting.  This type of natural lighting will give all of your subjects “Raccoon Eyes”.    While it is true that there some some incredible locations at the city hall venue with amazing natural light, it’s not always easy to capture it.  It takes practice and experience to master the interior photos taken at city hall.

City Hall Major Events

One of the unknown things about San Francisco city hall is that they schedule large events throughout the week during the same time that weddings are occurring.  This is often surprising to many people and they don’t know how to handle it. When events are scheduled, City Hall frequently ropes off the Grand Staircase making it impossible to take photos in the area.  Since this is probably where about 75% of all photography takes place within city hall, this can be a problem.  The advantage of hiring a professional city hall photographer is that they will know other places to take you that are also beautiful and historic.  Some of these other areas may not be obvious to your amateur “friend” wedding photographer.  I know the first time I did a wedding at city hall, I had no idea about some of these other areas.  This one of the huge advantages to hiring a pro.  Not only do they know where to take you to avoid the crowds, but they also know about the “secret” locations around the building.

City Hall Staircase roped off and closed.
City Hall Staircase roped off and closed.

The above image shows what it looks like when the Grand Staircase is closed and you cannot go in.

We will post Part 2 of this article tomorrow.  Stay tuned!

Parking for your Wedding at City Hall

It can be a challenge to park in San Francisco, especially anything close to Downtown.  We often get asked asked by our brides and grooms about the best places to park around city hall for their wedding.  There are a number of options and I will start with the most simple one:

  1. The Civic Center Parking Garage.  This is probably the most convenient of all of the nearby options at City Hall.  There is ample room and the lot rarely fills up.  Recently they have raised their pricing so it’s no longer the bargain it once was.  However, it is still less expensive than parking downtown and it is walking distance from the the entrance to City Hall.  It’s also covered parking which provides an extra level of safety.  For more details including parking rates and closing times, click this link:  Civic Center Parking
  2. The War Memorial Opera House Garage.  Another nearby option is at the Opera House behind San Francisco city hall off of Van Ness.  It may appear to be a little farther away, but in reality it’s about the same distance assuming you use the back entrance to city hall.  Just cross Van Ness street and you are there.  It also offers covered parking and decent pricing.   It’s usually available unless there is a big event going on there (like the opera!).  But since most city hall weddings are during the day, you should be able to park here with no problem.  Click here for details on Opera House parking.
  3. Civic Center Street Parking.  If you don’t need covered parking, there are quite a few spots on the street around City Hall.  The pricing is better but some are limited in time.  If you are going to be in the building for less than 2 hours, this might be a good option.  Just remember that city hall weddings rarely occur on time so you need to allow some cushion.  Its actually quite possible to find spots right across the street from city hall.  There is also a nice service available to help you locate and reserve street parking.  For more information click here:  Reserved Street Parking
  4. The above options are the most common ways that brides and grooms find parking for their wedding.  But there are many other possibilities.  This article shows some other great places to park so check it out and happy parking!
Entrance to the City Hall Parking garage
Entrance to the City Hall Parking garage
Parking Garage Walking Entrance for City Hall
Parking Garage Walking Entrance for City Hall

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!

Up in the City Hall Dome!

Toni and I were offered the unique opportunity to go up in the dome at San Francisco City Hall.  We were photographing a wedding at city hall and we were up on the 4th floor.  We were talking to one of the event staff while he was putting away chairs and he asked us if we wanted to go up into the dome area.  We of course said yes and proceeded to climb the spiral staircase that takes you up near the top of City Hall.  It was an amazing experience!  The view from up there was incredible, like nothing we have ever seen before.  Our couple enjoyed it as well.  We took just a few photos since we didn’t have much time.  This particular day also happened to be one of the hottest days in the history of San Francisco, so it was pretty hot up there, but totally worth the climb.

It just goes to show you how just being friendly to people that you work around can pay dividends.  I am sure we will never be able to go up there again, but it was nice to see how it looks.  I don’t think there ever any intention of using this upper area for visitors and certainly not weddings!

Columns in the upper dome Columns in the upper dome

Bride and Groom in the Upper Dome at San Francisco City Hall Bride and Groom in the Upper Dome

San Francisco Wedding Photography Destinations – Part 2

We also enjoy taking our couples to some of the less popular and also less touristy destinations.  In Part 2 of this blog post, we will discuss some of these areas:

Painted Ladies

One of San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks are the brightly painted Victorian houses that you will see throughout the city.   But there are 6 particular houses right in a row which have captured the imagination of many and have become relatively famous.  They were partially made famous when the appeared on the opening Credits of the popular San Francisco Based TV show “Full House”.  Located by Alamo Square Park, these beautiful homes attract visitors from all over the country.  There are a number of angles you can use to photograph the Painted Ladies

We prefer placing our bride and groom on the edge of the Alamo Square park and shooting from that angle.

Painted Ladies of San Francisco
Painted Ladies of San Francisco

Russian Hill / North Beach

This is actually a district in San Francisco and not so much a photography location.  However, it is a great area to wander around and get some fantastic street photography.  We often take our newly married couples up to the top of Russian Hill to begin with so we can get some great views of San Francisco.   Once that is completed, we can wander down to the actual North Beach area and explore the many shops, bars and restaurants and take photos as you do it.  We have a few favorite spots we like to stop at including Sotto Mare which has outdoor seating.  What better place to get a natural photo of you and your spouse sipping Italian Wine!

North Beach Photography
North Beach Photography

Woodline at the Presidio in San Francisco

A hidden Gem in the Presidio in San Francisco is a little place we discovered called Woodline.  It’s basically a cut through of the thick and dense woods that you normally find when walking through the Presidio.  Few people know about it so it is rare that we run into tourists when we take our married couples there for wedding photography.  Rather than describing it, I think it would better to just post an example image:

Presidio wedding photography at Woodline
Presidio wedding photography

Ghirardelli Square / Cable Car

While it may be true that Ghirardelli Square IS a well known San Francisco destination, it’s not quite so famous as a wedding photography spot.   We love it!  Why?  Because it is such a great place to walk around and experience San Francisco!  By far one of the best places to get a Cable Car image because the cars sit there on Hyde Street waiting to be boarded.  In addition, you have the Famous Buena Vista Cafe which is an iconic pub that serves the best Irish coffees that you can imagine!  Ghirardelli Square is also just a nice area to have our couple walk around and enjoy while we photograph them!

San Francisco Cable Car wedding photography
San Francisco Cable Car

“2 Men and a Baby” at City Hall

City Hall Ceremony with Baby Watching City Hall Ceremony with their Baby Watching

I wanted to update this post from last year because I have some new photos to add to it.  I still love this first one (see above) because it is so classic! One of our favorite City Hall Weddings from last year!  We photographed the wedding of Steve and John with only 1 guest……  Their 5 month old little girl.  We met the 3 of them in the hallway directly outside of the County Clerk’s office to assist them with their Ceremony check-in.  After a brief meeting with their officiant we all headed up to the Rotunda to celebrate their marriage.  One of the most fun things about the ceremony was that the Deputy Marriage commissioner volunteered to hold the baby while John and Steve exchanged wedding rings!  This great idea helped create this classic photo that they will remember for the rest of their lives.  I just love how the baby is looking right at the ring exchange of her new dads!

Dad with daughter just before the city hall ceremony Dad with daughter just before the city hall ceremony

Once the ceremony was completed and the marriage sealed with a kiss, we took the happy couple around the building to take some photos.  We incorporated their daughter into some of the early photos, but it wasn’t long until she had fallen asleep in her baby stroller.  We took advantage of this lucky break to get some really nice poses of the couple, taking them on a tour to many of our favorite picture spots.  We ended our shoot at the city hall sign out in front of the building.  Perfect timing as the baby woke up and joined the couple for a posed shot in front of San Francisco City Hall.

Same-Sex Grooms posing with the Rotunda in the background Same-Sex Grooms posing with the Rotunda in the backgroundcity hall sign with baby city hall sign with baby