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!

City Hall Wedding Photography with a Smile

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.

Toni with one of our couples
Toni 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!!