Summer at San Francisco city hall is a fun time. Lots of weddings and unpredictable weather. It could be foggy and cold with dark lighting or it can be hot and bright in the building. This past week we had a rare mid August heat spell in San Francisco and it created some pretty tough conditions for brides and grooms wearing heavy clothes. One of the things about all of the Marble present in the construction of SF City Hall is that if you have a number of hot days, it tends to hold the heat. So for example on Friday it wasn’t really that hot outside, but City Hall was still burning. Why is this important information? It helps wedding participants know how to prepare for the conditions on their wedding day. For example, if it is going to be hot, don’t wear a vest if you are a groom.
Lighting and Fog Outside of City Hall
Yes, San Francisco is known for foggy summers. How does it affect the lighting for wedding photography? The answer is, not that much. Despite the fact that it’s possible to get some really nice shots with the natural light in the building, there are other ways to get amazing pictures without it. We bring in our own professional lighting and we can often mimic the soft lighting that comes from the North side windows at City Hall. Most of our lighting techniques make it nearly impossible for the average person to even know that professional studio lighting was used. We go for subtle lighting that doesn’t interfere with the beautiful backgrounds and architecture at SF City Hall.
We always talk about how great San Francisco City Hall is for weddings and of course Wedding Photography. There are so many iconic locations to shoot here, most notably the Grand Staircase, Rotunda and Mayor’s Balcony. Wonderful backgrounds for wedding photography with amazing early 1900’s architecture. However, were you aware that there are times that you will arrive at city hall to get married and some or all of these places are not available and roped off? This is the big secret that The County Clerks office never tells you when you sign up to have your ceremony at city hall. Brides and grooms are frequently surprised when they learn that the most beautiful background in San Francisco is unavailable on their wedding day. Why? Because an event has been scheduled at the same time as your wedding!
San Francisco Events
San Francisco just happens to be one of the favorite places on the West Coast for companies to schedule their special events. In addition, local entities such as the Opera House, The Symphony and even Google love to have their events in San Francisco. Guess what is one of the most popular event locations for elegant events? Yes, San Francisco city hall! There have been times that we as wedding photographers have walked into the building ready to shoot a wedding only to see hundreds of people milling about wearing fancy clothes. Half of the building can be closed off and they provide you a narrow path through the mess to get to the Clerk’s office to have your ceremony. The fact is, SF City Hall does not guarantee you access to the whole building when you reserve your ceremony time. The only thing they promise you is that you will have a legal marriage. Nothing else is promised, but of course full access is implied. So what does a bride and groom do to avoid this happening to them?
Scheduling is Everything
Through the years I have attempted to find a good web page that is kept up to date and lists city hall events in San Francisco. I have never found one that is actually updated. Most are just blank pages and some show past events. Thus, the only thing an engaged couple can do is try avoid scheduling their wedding on the prime event days and times.
Days and Times to Avoid Booking
Fridays should be avoided, but if you have to, make sure it is early morning only. The Staircase can often be closed all day or they start setting up late in the afternoon. The building hosts music and some form of entertainment almost every Friday at Noon.
Thursdays, especially after 3 pm. This day of the week is also quite popular for events. Sometimes if San Francisco city hall is going to have an all day event on Friday, they will start the set up late on Thursday.
In general, any day of the week after 3 pm . Even though it is rare, there are events early in the week. If city hall schedules them, it will most likely be in the evening or late afternoon.
The tough part of all of this is that the late afternoon times are some of the best for wedding photography and no crowds. So we often recommend that people book the last ceremony of the day because city hall starts to become less crowded late in the afternoon. For me, the best times and days of the week overall are Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. There is a small risk of an event, but overall the experience is usually good on these days late.
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.