San Francisco City Hall Wedding Ideas

San Francisco City Hall Wedding Ideas

We have been photographing weddings at San Francisco City Hall now for nearly 10 years and have learned some interesting ideas and helpful hints throughout this time.  I thought it would be instructive to share some of these thoughts with our readers to help engaged couples planning on getting married at San Francisco City Hall.

  • Hire a Professional Wedding Photographer –  OK probably no surprise that I started with this hint since I am a City Hall Wedding Photographer. However, this is not strictly self-serving.  I would highly recommend that you hire ANY of the top wedding photographers that specialize in City Hall weddings.  Why?  Because the top 10 or so photographers will not only take wonderful photos of your ceremony and formal shots, but they will also guide you through the process.  Over these 10 years I have watched other photographers work with their clients and all of them are happy to help.  Conversely, when I see couples without a photographer, they appear confused and keep doing the wrong thing with regard to activities like the County Clerk ceremony check-in.  Having a helpful professional there to guide you just takes one more stressful thing to worry about on your wedding day.
  • Dress up and Bring Flowers – We often find that brides and grooms are surprised when they see other couples wearing formal attire.  Many of them are disappointed that they didn’t do the same.  I think people that are unfamiliar with SF City Hall don’t realize that people actually do formal weddings there because of the beauty of the venue.  But the biggest issue we see is brides not bringing a bouquet for photography.   The only negative thing I would ever say about City Hall is that the colors are all very monotone.  So even though our photos come out gorgeous with the amazing backgrounds and architecture, SO much is added simply be mixing in a splash of color.  It also gives the bride something to do with her hands!
  • Avoid City Hall Crowds – Yes, it really is possible to have your wedding San Francisco City Hall and not have other weddings and tourists everywhere.  How do we avoid this?  You just need to pick your spots.  Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days to get married and by far the least crowded.  Some people tell me,  “But we can’t get married in the middle of the week, it needs to be Friday to accommodate our friends and family”.    Well if you have ever been in City Hall on “Crazy Friday”, you wont be using the word “accommodate” and “Friday” in the same sentence.  Ask your friends and family, they might surprise you.  Also, if you really want to have the place to yourself, get married early morning (9:30 am slot) or later (3:30 pm slot).
  • Consider a Reserved Ceremony – Obviously one of the big draws to having your nuptials at San Francisco City Hall is the low cost.  Under $100 to get married in this beautiful historic building.  However, the rules state that you should only bring 6 guests.  Yes, most people ignore these rules, but you are still limited and the more people you bring the more others are disrupted.  Reserving the Mayor’s Balcony or the 4th Floor North Gallery only costs $1,000 and pretty much guarantees you privacy and 1 hour of no crowds.  Get married on a Friday, who cares now!  You have your own space, they rope if off, and even set up chairs for your 40 guests.  In addition, your wedding photographer now has at least one location to get great shots !Reserved Wedding at San Francisco City Hall

City Hall Wedding at the Mayor’s Balcony

Fish Eye Lens Wedding Photography Fish Eye Lens Wedding PhotographyBridal Portrait with flowers in front of 3rd Floor window at SF City Hall Bridal Portrait with flowers in front of 3rd Floor window

Lacie and Brad had already eloped in Europe but wanted to still have a marriage ceremony in the US for their family and friends.  They booked the Mayors Balcony so they could fit a large amount of people and have them seated comfortably.  The cost to reserve the 2nd floor Mayor’s Balcony is only $1,000 and you get to have it for a full hour.

Since this couple had already been married, they did not want or need an extensive photo shoot of the 2 of them.  They were mostly interested in family pictures and wedding party shots.   So after a wonderful ceremony, we started in on our extensive list of Family Photos and everyone really enjoyed getting together for them.  Its nice when people genuinely seem to like being involved in group photos, it makes it much easier also!

Across the building shot at SF City Hall Across the building shot at SF City Hall

After completing the family photos we did a large number of wedding party shots.  We did all the girls and all the guys and then paired each of them with the bride and groom.  They were dressed in matching outfits so this particular city hall wedding really resembled a large formal wedding.  After completing this portion of the festivities we took this attractive couple on a mini tour of San Francisco City Hall.  We still needed to get at least a few shots of them together.

Family Affair at SF City Hall

Deb and Bart on the 4th Floor in Black and White Deb and Bart on the 4th Floor in Black and White

Another fun wedding today with Deb and Bart.   The 2 of them made the trip to San Francisco City Hall all the way from Boise Idaho.  Even more impressive was their children who basically came from all over the USA and even the world to watch their parents get married.  After a fun filled ceremony and photo shoot at City Hall we decided to head to our pre-planned photo tour starting at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.  We obviously could not fit all 5 of their kids in the car so we had to meet them there.  When we first arrived at the Legion of Honor we noticed that it was getting foggy so decided it would be best if we went right into the Golden Gate Bridge photos that we had also planned to do.  We took them to the 17th Hole at Lincoln Park Golf course which is a little more than walking distance from the Legion.  The Tee Box here has a nice view of the bridge so we rushed down there to get our shots before our opportunity was completely fogged over.

Spinning Bride at the Golden Gate Bridge Spinning Bride at the Golden Gate Bridge

After completing our wedding photography at the 17th Hole, we headed back up to the Legion of Honor to wait for the kids.  As it turned out, they were actually waiting for US at the Palace of Fine Arts.  Deb and Bart have no idea how they ended up there, but it was clear that we needed to change our plans and get back in the car.  After a nice shortcut through the Presidio we finally met up at POFA in San Francisco.  The kids had purchased some Champagne and we were able to get the awesome shot below:

Champagne Toast at the Legion of Honor Champagne Toast at the Legion of Honor

Action shots are always the best types of photos to get especially with a larger group like this one.  The family will look at this shot for years and laugh at each of their expressions as the bottle was opened in celebration.

Busy Week at San Francisco City Hall in the Heat

We had quite a crazy week at city hall!  Besides photographing 5 beautiful couples in only 4 days, we also had to deal with record temps!  On Friday San Francisco hit the 103 mark which was an all-time record.  We were lucky enough to have booked a wedding on that day and got to experience the incredible heat.  Fortunately, City Hall is slow to heat up and also slow to cool down.  Often the day of the heat wave, the building never gets up to unbearable temperatures, but watch out for the following day!  If the famous San Francisco fog doesn’t roll in, the building will heat up like an oven.  All of that concrete and marble tends to hold on to the heat, but the whole process takes a while.  Thus, we really had our hottest shooting day at City Hall the following days after the heat wave.


I have to say that our couples all handled the heat very well and were good sports.  Some of the guys with their tuxes were clearly suffering a bit, but they never let their bride see any extreme discomfort.   We purposely tried to keep our normal shooting pace slow, to keep everyone cool.  I have a tendency to walk fast through the building, but not this week!  It was a relief on Thursday to leave city hall and head out to the Palace of Fine Arts.  We had a feeling that once we got there, it would be cooler given its proximity to the Bay.  We were not disappointed when we were greeted by a nice cool breeze.


With so many weddings this week to talk about, I will end this post here, but promise to pick it up again tomorrow and talk about some of our other couples for the week.  Thanks for listening!

Australian Couple Weds at City Hall

Georgie and Keron traveled clear across the world to get married at San Francisco City Hall. They have no friends or relatives in town, nor have they ever been here before.  They just noticed online what a beautiful wedding venue city hall is and decided to elope.  They rented out the entire Mayor’s Balcony so they would have privacy and not have to worry about tourists wandering through their ceremony.  It is rare that couples do this, but we have seen it before and it can be a great idea.  Even at $1,000 (the cost to reserve the Mayor’s Balcony for 1 hour) having your wedding at City Hall is a bargain!  Where else can you have access to this beautiful old building; choose from some of the best wedding photographers in the San Francisco area; and also have your own intimate wedding ceremony?  Pretty tough to find, especially in the Bay Area.

After the ceremony we took Georgie and Keron throughout the city hall building to make sure we made their trip from Australia a memorable one.  They booked our Golden Gate Package so we had plenty of time to tour around the building and take some great photos.  One of our first stops was the 3rd floor on the north side of the building.  The light there at mid day is amazing, it’s like having your own photo studio at city hall.   Artists understand that northern light is preferable due to its softness and mild intensity.  We took the photo below with minimal lighting, just mostly using window light.

After spending more time in the building, they wanted to go to the Golden Gate Bridge (who doesn’t?).   We drove them there in our car and the weather was amazing.  We chose Crissy Field on this particular day since the air was relatively clear and the bridge was in plain site with no fog getting in the way.   We put them on top of one of the little mounds of grass and got this amazing shot below. Wedding Photography at Crissy Field Wedding Photography at Crissy Field

Robyn and Jeff’s City Hall Wedding

City Hall Window Shot

Since this is a new blog, I thought it would be fun to go back in time and feature some of our more memorable weddings in addition to keeping up with new ones.  When Toni and I think about past city hall wedding experiences, Robyn and Jeff always come to mind.  We probably overuse the term “fun couple”, but with them it totally fit!  Neither the bride or groom seemed at all nervous, but they were definitely excited to get married.

They had a large gathering of family and friends who watched their nuptials in the Great Rotunda at San Francisco City Hall.  After photographing them with with their guests we took them around the building for a fun-filled tour.  Robyn knew how to pose for the camera and seemed to be having fun doing it.  In many cases, they improvised on our suggested positioning, adding their own personal twist.  We have included a photo of them standing in the city hall window, a practice that is no longer allowed on the 3rd floor.

SF Cable Car on California Street.
SF Cable Car on California Street.
Bride and Groom with Tesla in San Francisco
Bride and Groom with Tesla

Next it was off to Nob Hill to get some Cable Car shots on California street.  We got an unexpected treat when the newly married couple informed us that THEY would be supplying the transportation and we would be riding with them in a brand new Tesla Model S!  Yes, that’s the one with a temporary performance setting that electronically puts out around 700 Horsepower.  The car goes from 0-60 mph in under 3 seconds in that mode and we pretty much experienced it on California Street.  A fun filled ride ending with some fantastic Cable Car shots.  Then we took them closer to Market Street and did some “street photography” with them just walking around.  Great stuff and a fun way to end the trip.

Colette and Stephen’s Wedding

We really enjoyed our day with Colette and Stephen.  Colette wore a spectacular red wedding dress which had heads turning throughout city hall.  The happy couple got married in front of family and friends in the beautiful Rotunda on a typically busy Thursday afternoon at San Francisco City Hall.   Fortunately, they choose a very late 3:30 ceremony time and so by the time their wedding was over and the family pictures were complete, things were starting to slow down around the building.  We highly recommend late ceremonies to take advantage of the fact that people start to vacate the building as it gets closer to 5:00 pm.  This is especially important on busy days at city hall like Thursdays and Fridays.

With a fair amount of free rein as we completed our building tour, we were able to get some amazing photos with not too many people around.  The couple had opted for our very popular Golden Gate package which provides them with 2.5 hours of coverage and 1 location after city hall.  They chose one of our favorite spots for their location, Woodline in the Presidio.  Woodline is a deep forest area in the Presidio that has a fairly wide cut-through opening where many trees were taken down.  The name Woodline comes from the fact that many of these trees were lined up in a zigzag pattern all the way down the cut-through. We thought that Colette’s dress would work perfectly with the background because of the beautiful red color and as you can see it did!  We provided the happy couple with convenient transportation to the Presidio location and then took them to their celebration dinner party.

Our New City Hall Wedding Blog

Introducing our new City Hall Wedding Photography blog.  It occurred to us that with all of the great times we have had with our couples, it was time to share our experiences. We really try to make our service different by focusing not only on producing great photos, but also making the wedding a great experience.  In the coming months we will share some of our wedding fun and focus more on unique things that happen at our City Hall Weddings.