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. UPDATE: City Hall now enforces this rule and anyone bringing more than 6 guests will most likely be forced to have their ceremony in the Private room. The Rotunda is absolutely restricted now to 6 guests due to past disruptions by large groups making loud noise.
So the question is, should you as an engaged couple violate the rules and and still try to 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. Realize that your extra guests may not be allowed to witness the ceremony close by. In general, city hall finds it difficult to restrict the number of guests that come in to the building to watch your wedding, but they ARE able to prevent the large group from being present at the actual ceremony. Please keep in mind that 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 are able to have a nice section of city hall all to yourself. They even give you 2 choices for this reserved ceremony. You can have your nuptials on the Mayors Balcony or The 4th Floor North Gallery. Both locations are exceptionally beautiful and provide 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.
Music is Allowed for Reserved Weddings
Another very nice feature of reserved weddings is that city hall allows you to bring in music to be played at your ceremony. Book harpist, string quartet or guitar player. It is your choice so long as you choose one of the SF Event Departments approved vendors. You can use the music to announce the bride coming in during the processional or when the happy couple leave. Many couples also just want to have background music for the time leading up to the actual ceremony. Even after the ceremony, you can book the musicians to stay and keep playing.
Keep in mind all of these many 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! They can even listen to music!
What happened today at San Francisco city hall? Toni and I are never surprised at what we face doing weddings in this great building. Every day it’s a new adventure. Today we thought it was going to be a typical day with a shorter coverage wedding booked. We arrived at the building typically early and went to the Mint Cafe to have some coffee and breakfast. It didn’t take very long for us to hear the rumor floating around the building… A water main had been broken and cut off all the water to City Hall. This of course means that none of the bathrooms were functioning nor were the water fountains. Right away I am thinking that they can’t have weddings today if there are no bathrooms and yet city hall was still letting people in the building including brides and grooms.
Closing San Francisco City Hall
I walked out to the front entrance to see if I could figure out what to tell my bride and groom who had not yet arrived and found that now they wern’t letting people in the building. But what about me? I was still here. Not for long it turned out. Eventually, Toni and I were both kicked out with no real understanding of what was to become of our scheduled wedding coming up in about 1 hour. We took our couple along with their family down away from the crowds and did their family photos. The idea being to head to another location to at least get some bride and groom pictures. Just as we were beginning to leave one of the County Clerks came out and found us and said they would let just the couple in with 2 guests for a ceremony only. No pictures after. This was fine except that city hall also decided to restrict the couple to only have 1 set of parents with them to watch their ceremony. This was not going to work! With a little bit of time and some convincing, Toni talked the security guard into letting both parents it to watch the wedding.
San Francisco City Hall Wedding Pictures
The ceremony went off without a hitch and we were able to take pictures of the proceedings. We did manage to take the couple to get a few nice wedding pictures, but certainly not our usual repertoire. Eventually, we were strongly encouraged to leave the building since it was still technically closed off to the public. Our bride and groom were relieved, however to at least have a wedding that day! We offered to come back another day to photograph the couple around San Francisco city hall in our normal way. They agreed, but were not sure if they wanted to dress up again.
About 2 weeks later, we returned to SF City Hall and actually finished what we started! The couple dressed back up and we did our full building shoot. It was a happy ending to a difficult wedding day! This picture below was the couple making the best out of a hard situation as they waited for the ceremony.
What about summer weddings in San Francisco? Some people might question the sanity of planning a wedding during the months of June, July and August. Why? Because everyone knows about our famous fog which is at it’s very worst during these months. My feeling is, who cares? Yes, your San Francisco wedding may not be marked by clear skies typically found in the summer, but San Francisco offers so much that it makes the fog irrelevant. As a native of this great city, I pretty much ignore the fog and appreciate all that SF has to offer. Let’s talk about why you should have your Wedding in San Francisco in the Summer.
Outdoor Wedding Photography
Want to have an outdoor wedding in the summer? It sounds romantic and fun, but if you are almost anywhere in California in the summer you could be in for a very hot time. We have photographed outdoor weddings in the Bay Area that were absolutely miserable for everyone involved due to the heat. Especially the poor groom with his heavy full coverage tux on. The guests can’t wait for the ceremony to be over and will frequently hide under the trees until the ceremony starts. But have your wedding in San Francisco and you would enjoy the natural air conditioning that the fog brings in. Once the wedding is over, take advantage of all that the city offers. Some of the best restaurants in world are in San Francisco. This provides a typical newly married couple with dozens of venue options with some great food! Of course wedding photography is so much better when the couple is comfortable and not sweating profusely.
North Beach Wedding in the Summer
Locals know that some of the best weather in the summer is in downtown San Francisco and the North Beach area. I particularly love North Beach because of all the excellent Italian restaurants throughout the district. Check out Tony’s Pizza for some of the best in town and also Sotto Mare if you love fish done Italian style. Get married at the Italian club or some of the other venues in the area. If you want more specific information, please contact me and I am happy to help you out.
San Francisco Wedding Photography Locations
Once the wedding is complete, you have so many options for great wedding photography. Everyone knows about the Palace of Fine Arts and The Legion of Honor, but what about Sutro Baths? Gorgeous! Crissy Fields with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background? Amazing! To top of it all off, you can go to San Francisco City Hall and get some spectacular wedding photos! Even with the fog, great photos are possible of The Golden Gate Bridge. You just have to get close to it. It actually makes for an amazing and appropriate effect to have the fog spilling over the bridge in the background.
This is part 2 of our blog post about the best San Francisco City Hall wedding photography locations. We have already explored the Grand Staircase, the Mayors Balcony and the 2nd Floor hallway. Here are a few more favorites:
3rd Floor North Windows – City Hall
Why do we love the 3rd floor so much for city hall wedding pictures? It’s definitely the light. The soft light that comes in from these north facing windows is soft, warm and complimentary. We can do so many things with this when it comes to posing the newlyweds. Here are some of our favorite options:
Bride and groom in front of the window with soft back lighting
Bride looking out the window with natural light on her face
Separate bride and groom on each side of window
Bride and groom in the hallway using the window for natural lighting
Full length bridal portraits using window light to highlight veil
SF City Hall 4th Floor North Gallery
Besides the Grand Staircase, this is probably one of the better city hall wedding photography locations in the building. It certainly is the favorite of many couples because of the beautiful architecture and direct light. The huge windows become a primary light source that literally wraps around your subject. In portrait photography terminology, it is like having a giant Soft Box to light your subjects. You can shoot portrait style close images on the 4th floor and blur the background or you get out the wide angle lens and display the amazing ceiling architecture and the city hall dome. It really is one of San Francisco’s most iconic picture taking spots.
Front Entrance with City Hall Sign
This is the photograph that virtually all of our couples want. They see it on other websites and they always request it. Since we usually save this background for the end of our shoot, we sometimes will receive questions from our bride and groom. “What about the City Hall Entrance?” As though we might forget it or don’t normally make it part of our normal portfolio of shots. They are always quite relieved to hear that we are saving one of the best shots for last! There are SO many photos we often do outside of the building in front of this famous doorway. Here are a few samples:
Groom Lifting Bride
Groom and Bride happily walking out through the door
This is part 2 of my own perspective of what it is like to photograph weddings at San Francisco city hall. In the first part of this post, I talked about the lifestyle changes and advantages of being a San Francisco city hall wedding photographer. Now let’s explore the actual benefits in terms of the daily routine.
More Time with the Bride and Groom
This certainly is the part we like best! A typical wedding on a weekend can last about 9 hours from Bridal prep until the last dance. So one would think that there are all kinds of opportunities to capture wonderful pictures of the bride and groom Well, when compared to city hall weddings, this could not be further from the truth. When engaged couples book us for San Francisco city hall, they choose a level of coverage. Even our lowest package in terms of price and coverage time gives us more time with the bride and groom then we would get at a big wedding. It is not uncommon for us to be able to spend 45 minutes with the happy newlyweds after their city hall ceremony. We would LOVE to have this amount of time with our couple at a full weekend wedding. Ask any full scale San Francisco wedding photographer and they will tell you the same thing. We are lucky to have 20 minutes with the bride and groom for photos. This 20 minutes is usually sandwiched between the family pictures and dinner service at the reception. It is frequently very rushed and stressful to all involved. A typical full wedding day is loaded with events and yes, they all need to be covered by the wedding photographer. But what I really love about city hall weddings is the amount of time devoted to JUST taking pictures of the bride and groom alone.
Our San Francisco City Hall Couples WANT Photos
If a San Francisco city hall couple books us to photograph their wedding, they are doing it because they really want great photos. You might be asking, doesn’t every couple? The answer to this is, sometimes. Many couples who book us for a big wedding do it because they are either forced to by relatives or feel that it is important to record the event for the future. It is more about documenting all that happened during the day instead of capturing artistic photos of the bride and groom. A couple that books a city hall wedding photographer pretty much knows that are not going to be that many events to document throughout the day. There is no cake cutting and no first dance. There is no bouquet toss and know speeches. The coverage they book us for includes ceremony coverage (5 minutes tops) and then photos around the building. So we know that our City Hall couples want great wedding pictures and we are more than happy to oblige.
Affordable San Francisco Wedding Photography
I honestly love giving my clients bargains. I really feel that San Francisco city hall wedding photography is a great deal compared to large wedding coverage. It makes us feel good as photographers to provide our clients with so much more coverage time for their money. So this benefits both the client and us. We have for a long time explained this to our clients and we want them to understand it and take advantage of it. Our clients have the opportunity to book some of the best San Francisco city hall wedding photographers for under $1,000. Everybody wins!
This won’t be my typical blog post, but I just had to talk about this today. We had a quite a crazy day for our most recent San Francisco City Hall wedding, but our couple handled it amazingly well. This is the story of the day, March 11, 2019.
County Clerk Line
It all started with an unusually long line at the County Clerk’s office for our soon to be married couple . What was normally about a 3 minute line was actually closer to 20 minutes. How did this happen? We are pretty sure it was mostly due to some bad timing coupled with the fact that the other doorway that handles Birth Certificates happened to be closed that morning. Anyway, we got in line to check-in and we waited. It was not that big of a deal at this point because everyone was in the same boat. No weddings were going to happen until brides and grooms were able get through that line. We casually talked about nothing special mostly, with a little bit of discussion about the upcoming shoot and how we were going to handle things. I also asked the couple if they had lunch plans so I could determine the amount of time I would have for wedding photography after the ceremony. Unfortunately, the couple DID have reservations and the place they wanted to go to was only able to hold their reserved time until around 2:30 to begin their party.
Timing Unfortunate – Ceremony
After waiting for all of that time the couple finally made it to the front of the line and were just about ready to be summoned in to meet with their marriage commissioner and then it happened….. The Fire Alarm sounded and we received the order to evacuate City Hall. The engaged couple were already about 20 minutes late and this delay would prove to be so much more. We spent a good 1 hour outside waiting to get cleared to return to the building once the Fire Department arrived and departed having determined that it was a faulty Smoke alarm that was at the route of the problem. Of course a certain city hall safety protocol had to be met before visitors were allowed back into the building. This included allowing the employees in first!
Happy SF City Hall Ending
After all of this waiting and worrying, the ending was happy. The couple not only had their San Francisco city hall wedding ceremony, but they made it to their lunch on time. The venue decided to stay open a little later just for them! Toni and I felt like we did a nice job keeping the couple calm and the family informed. We tried to turn a potentially stressful situation into a positive marriage experience. The newlyweds will probably look back on this day and smile!
If you are a San Francisco City Hall Bride-to-Be, you want the perfect wedding. I have been involved in over 400 weddings at City Hall since 2012 and created this guide just for you.
Idea # 1 – Treat your city hall wedding like you would any other wedding. City Hall is a formal venue. The elegance of this building lends itself to making your event fancy and at the same time fun. I can’t tell you how many times my city hall brides have been surprised when they enter the building and see so many formal dresses on others. Many feel that since their San Francisco city hall wedding is a so called “Civil Ceremony” that people will be dressed more casually. They soon find that brides will often go all out with their dresses and the grooms will wear tuxes. It works here because of the high class atmosphere at city hall. The other thing that frequently is left out is Flowers. Many of our brides do not bring a bouquet for the same reasons. They think of SF City Hall weddings as informal, so no flowers are purchased. From a city hall wedding photographer’s standpoint, I highly recommend flowers be included. Despite the obvious beauty of the building, there is one minor issue…. There is no color in the background at city hall, so adding some flowers provides some nice contrast and focus.
Idea #2 – Consider having a Reserved wedding at City Hall. For an extra $900 you can rent out either Mayor’s Balcony or the 4th Floor North Gallery and have a semi-private ceremony at San Francisco City Hall. The cost of $1,000 is actually a bargain in San Francisco for a wedding celebration. They can seat up to 60 people and you get a roped off private area to have your wedding for 1 hour.
Idea #3 – Book your city hall wedding Reception at a nearby Restaurant. There are a number of great places to eat walking distance from San Francisco city hall. Save money on transportation and have your wedding celebration at any one of them. It will be more convenient for your guests and will save you dollars! Some examples include: Soluna Cafe, Corridor, Jardiniere and Absinthe, but there are many more!
Idea #4 – Obtain your Marriage License the day before your city hall ceremony. Obviously it is much more convenient to process and receive your marriage license on the same day you have your civil ceremony and it normally works OK. However, as city hall wedding photographers we have witnesses many times where this procedure backfires on the engaged couple. One of the reasons relates to timing. If you don’t allow enough of it between the license processing and the actual wedding ceremony, you might end up feeling rushed. I believe a couple’s wedding day should be a celebration without too much time spent processing paperwork. The other issue that occasionally comes up are documentation problems. If you do not have the appropriate documents to process the license and your wedding is in 30 minutes, you have a big problem. However, if you do this the day before, it gives you a full day to fix any issues and it is one less thing to worry about on your wedding day.
Idea #5 – Hire a professional San Francisco city hall wedding photographer. OK, so you might have seen this coming since you happen to be reading a blog from a city hall wedding photographer. However, we would not be in this business if we didn’t strongly believe in what we do. I am not just talking about booking us for your wedding, I am encouraging SF city hall brides and grooms to hire any of the top wedding photographers out there. There are many good ones and all of them want to provide you with great memories. Don’t try to save money by hiring Uncle Steve to do you wedding with his really cool new DSLR camera (that he barely knows how to use!)
Often times there is more to photographing a San Francisco city hall wedding then just making nice pictures. The day of the wedding can be stressful and it is no different at city hall. Though truthfully, there is less to go wrong because with a civil ceremony you avoid problems with setting up the reception, food issues and choosing the perfect wedding favors. We recently photographed a wedding a city hall where we are able to help both the bride and groom prepare for the ceremony. There were a few minor complications and we were there to help!
Groom’s Pants Too Long
The groom asked me while waiting to check in at the County Clerk if I thought his pants were too long. They did seem to be a bit long, but what could be done this close to their civil ceremony? I remembered back to how I used to “hem” my own pants temporily with tape and suggested that to the groom. After some discussion, I went into the Clerk’s office and asked one of my friends who works the front desk if we could borrow some tape. After some visual measurements and approval by the bride we managed to put a nice temporary hem on the pants and they looked great!
Bride’s Eyelash Problems
As this was going on, I noticed the bride struggling with getting her eyelashes looking the way she wanted them, but there was nobody to hold the mirror for her because the Groom was busy “hemming” his pants. So without the bride asking me, I grabbed the mirror for her and held it while she did the finishing touches on her eyes. Just a simple gesture really and in no way heroic, but it was much appreciated by both of our clients.
I never really gave it a second thought until a few weeks later I received a 5 star review from the newlyweds about their SF city hall wedding. One of the highlights of this Yelp review was the bride mentioning both of the problems above and how we helped. Again, these were relatively easy tasks, but it reminded me how important it is to be there for your city hall wedding photography client in all ways possible. Of course, we still needed to deliver great photos of their wedding, but the sometimes the little things get noticed and appreciated the most!
San Francisco City Hall Wedding Photography for over 8 years with 400+ marriages creatively photographed
Asian Wedding at the Palace of Fine Arts
What are some of the best ways to approach City Hall wedding photography?
Challenging Lighting. One of the trickiest things about taking pictures at San Francisco city hall is the lighting. Depending upon where you are in the building the lighting can either be amazing or extremely tough to deal with. For example, the Mayor’s Balcony is difficult because just about any angle shooting away from the balcony towards the rotunda involves heavy back lighting. The Mayor’s Balcony is not only fairly dark, but everything around it is bathed in natural light. We often see amateur wedding photographers attempting to shoot their subjects by the railing with out any lighting and ultimately they will mostly just get silhouette images or blown out backgrounds. Another challenging place to shoot is in the Rotunda area where the city hall ceremonies occur. The predominate light in this area is from overhead. So if you shoot in almost any direction your subjects will have “raccoon eyes”. If you are taking pictures in the Rotunda, position yourself with your back to the Mayor’s Balcony and you will get some nice light. If you have flash, use it!
Crowd Control. We jokingly refer to this as crowd control but there is some truth to this city hall wedding photography challenge. The fact is that San Francisco city hall is a public building. Every single person in the building has the same right to be there as you. Yes, even if you are getting married! The best way to handle this simply is to go where people aren’t. It sounds simple, but virtually every non-professional wedding photographer we see ignores this advice. They spend the whole photography session on the Grand Staircase as though this was the only place in all of city hall for wedding photography. The fact is, there are 4 floors that ALL have great backgrounds and architecture to explore. As you take your couple around the building, keep your eye on the Staircase so when it clears off, you can run down and get some pictures. Meanwhile, you might find that there are some very nice other locations to photograph.
Leave the Family Behind. We often see amateur city hall wedding photographers taking their whole wedding party around the building with them when shooting the bride and groom. This is not a good idea for several reasons. Most importantly, it will make your couple inhibited as they pose for their city hall wedding pictures with an audience. Inevitably, some of the relatives with shout out suggestions and make comments. This is distracting to the photographer and the subject. The other issue is that the family and friends will get in the way of your backgrounds. You will spend more time trying to move the group then actually posing the couple. Ask the Wedding Party to either wait in the Mint Cafe or just in a neutral area somewhere. It will make your city hall wedding photography session go much smoother.
Timing is Everything. I understand that not everyone can control the timing of their San Francisco city hall wedding photography session. There are many factors that get in the way, most importantly the time of the wedding ceremony. Also many couples are restricted because of work schedules and can not choose the best days of the week. However, if some of these things ARE in your control, then by all means choose the best times of the day and best days of the week. Avoid Fridays if possible because of extreme city hall crowds. Tuesdays and Wednesdays seem to be the best days of the week for less people. If you have control of your booking time, then try for early times or late. There will be less people and especially tourists at those times.
I am writing this blog post because we have had a number of brides at city hall show up without flowers. San Francisco city hall is an amazing place to have your wedding ceremony. The architecture alone is incredible but there is even more to this story. Because of the way the building is oriented, the natural light can pretty amazing at times. As a City Hall wedding photographer, you learn where to go at certain times of the day to capture this light. The windows are also incredible, not only because of the light they let in, but also the designs on the windows themselves. The only small problem with photographing weddings here is that the backgrounds are all very neutral. You have a mixture of white and gray and many shades in between. For this reason flowers make an incredible difference. Just adding that little splash of color can really enhance a wedding photo here.
As you can see from the above photo, the image is enhanced by the color added from the bride’s bouquet. Even the boutonniere worn by the groom makes a difference. We are able to produce wonderful images even without flowers, but we highly suggest you consider bringing even a small arrangement. I honestly think that some City Hall brides dont even think about the possibility of flowers because its a civil ceremony. But San Francisco city hall is so different because of the elegance of the building! Here is a link to a city hall florist that we have liked in the past just in case you need ideas.
Another fun thing about bringing a bouquet to your city hall wedding is that you can throw it! Its kind of obvious who was going to catch it this time, but still a fun shot. For more information about our SF City Hall Wedding Photography service check out our Yelp Reviews. We feel that it is more important to carefully read the reviews than to look at the rating. We always try to help our brides and grooms out with the process of getting married at City Hall and this is reflected in our Reviews. Providing advice on flowers is just one aspect of how we try to assist our Newlyweds. NOTE: We have discovered over time just how important it really is to add flowers at SF City Hall. We have now started to bring a very nice silk bouquet to the wedding just in case our couple shows up with flowers. Of course it is optional, but many of our clients take us up on our offer!