Best SF City Hall Wedding Photography Locations

Best SF City Hall wedding photography locations - the 2nd Floor Hallway
Second Floor Hallway at San Francisco City Hall

Admittedly, SF City Hall offers a bit of an embarrassment of riches because there are so many locations that could be considered the best. The actual purpose of this Blog post is to share my 8 years of San Francisco city hall wedding photography experience to help you understand WHY each of the locations are preferred. I will provide a brief description and some of the attributes of each location and provide a photo. This is Part 1 of what will be a 3 part series.

Grand Staircase at San Francisco city hall
Grand Staircase at SF City Hall

The City Hall Grand Staircase

As I have said many times, this is most of our client’s best location for their wedding pictures. If anything, we try to encourage our brides and grooms that yes, the Staircase is amazing, but there are other beautiful spots in SF City Hall as well. Why? Probably because the Grand Staircase is the first place that the City Hall events department closes down when there is going to be a big event. Most events in the building are centered around the Staircase so its natural that they would close it down. We try to be keenly aware of what is going on at SF city hall to prevent us from not getting Staircase images if its going to be closed down soon. Over our many years photographing weddings here, we have learned the warning signs that a big event is coming. Is the Grand Staircase better than all of the other photography locations at San Francisco city hall. I will let you be the judge.

So why do we all love the Grand Staircase so much? I think its mostly because it is the centerpiece of the beautiful Architecture present at San Francisco City Hall. It’s smooth curves and nicely patterned floors creates an amazing backdrop to city hall wedding pictures. Yes, it can be difficult to get a free shot without tourists and other photographers in the background. You also have to deal with the occasional tourist group that feels like it is a great place to rest all of their bags, jackets and themselves! Fortunately the Grand Staircase is large and can be approached from many angles, so the best city hall wedding photographers can figure out how to capture an image with a minimal of distractions. No doubt the Grand Staircase deserves its spot as one of the top city hall wedding photography locations, but let’s look at some of the others.

Mayors Balcony at San Francisco City Hall
Mayors Balcony

The Mayor’s Balcony- Better?

In addition to one of the favored locations for reserved weddings at San Francisco City Hall, the Mayor’s Balcony also is a beautiful spot to bring the bride and groom for wedding pictures. In a sense, the Mayor’s Balcony is the best central viewing location for the entire building. It faces the Grand Staircase and is located directly across from the Rotunda. In addition, the Mayor’s Balcony is high enough to afford better views of the 4th floor galleries as well as the beautiful windows on the 3rd floor. All in all, it becomes a wonderful place to pose the newlyweds and we can basically choose any background you want!

Second Floor Hallway at City Hall

I kind of feel like we were one of the first San Francisco city hall wedding photographers to really take advantage of the gorgeous repeating lines in the Second Floor Hallway. One of the hallmarks of Beaux-Arts architecture is the symmetry and repeating patterns. Well it just so happens that repeating lines is a classic photography background so no wonder City Hall is so fabulous for wedding pictures! The Hallway allows us to place our newlyweds in the center and the background shows behind them with beautiful patterns and colors. We will sometimes back light the bride and groom as you see in the photo above. This helps provide a dramatic glow in the image and especially the bride’s veil.

Best Wedding Photographers SF City Hall

Celebrating after the Wedding! Celebrating after the Wedding!Bride and Groom Kissing at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco 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 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.

Best City Hall Wedding Photography

Here are some thoughts from other experts on this subject.  What makes wedding photographers the best?

Bride and Groom in San Francisco having fun at the Legion of Honor Bride and Groom in San Francisco having fun at the Legion of HonorElegant Bride at San Francisco City Hall Elegant Bride at San Francisco City Hall