We had a very busy June at San Francisco City Hall. We photographed 12 weddings of different cultures and from other countries. It was an especially fun group of couples with all kinds of diversity and various nationalities. 6 of our weddings were Same-Sex. The most we have ever photographed in a single month. Some of these weddings wanted a very short coverage, just staying with the confines of San Francisco city hall. Others opted for the full treatment and so we took them all over San Francisco on one of our popular photo tours. We drove them around in our car and it became more than just a photo shoot…. We got out and enjoyed the beauty of the City by the Bay! For the most part we got pretty lucky with the weather. San Francisco can be very foggy in June, but we really only had one wedding where we had to make a slight change of plans because of the fog. We often try to take out newly married couples to Fort Point when it is really foggy because the bridge is so close. But this time even that didn’t work, we were practically under the Golden Gate Bridge but we still could not see it. So we just took our couple to the Palace of Fine Art instead and got some great images there!
Extended Wedding Photography
In addition to the many same-sex weddings, we also had some very long coverage city hall weddings in June. Many of our clients ask us to take some pictures at their wedding celebration after the ceremony. When it comes to San Francisco City Hall, we rarely do what would be considered a full scale wedding reception, but it is usually at a nice place to eat in the city. We are more than happy to accompany you to your party and get some nice candid images of cake cutting, toasts, and dancing. Whatever your celebration involves we will cover it and provide you with plenty of detail shots. Our extensive experience with full scale wedding helps us in this regard. We have photographed over 1,300 weddings in our long career. Dealing with every possible situation has given us some great experience which we are happy to share with our clients.
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.
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!!
Everyone wants photos of the Grand Staircase at San Francisco City Hall. It is the central theme in this amazing building and so consequently every bride and groom wants their photo taken there. Obviously this presents a massive problem….. Not only do all 35 couples who get marred at city hall on a daily basis want there photo on the Grand Staircase, but the tourists love to hang out on the stairs and take their own photos. It can be a huge challenge especially on Fridays to get a nice image with the Staircase not completely covered by other people. So how do we as San Francisco city hall wedding photographers, handle this problem?
Christmas at SF City Hall on the Grand Staircase
Timing is Everything at City Hall
We have quite a few different techniques for getting the important Grand Staircase wedding photo. Our most effective way of handling this is to just keep our eyes on the staircase as we take our brides and grooms around the building. If we suddenly see the staircase clear of people, we change our pattern and head straight down to it as soon as we can. Many times when we do this, the staircase is already loaded with people again by the time we get there. Mostly, though this technique works great. We have discovered over the years that people tend to walk around city hall in large groups so when one group descends on the Grand Staircase another smaller group may go in a different direction. The idea is to be ready when the small group is nearby and the large group has left. You can see from our photos that we are quite successful getting this shot at our various weddings
Late night Staircase Image
The image above was taken at a time which also illustrates the importance of timing at city hall. We set this image up at around 5:30 pm and it was our final shot of the day. The other technique for getting the Grand Staircase shot is doing it very late in the day after people leave. So this teaches us that if the staircase shot is very important to you, book your wedding late in the day. The last ceremony time is 3:30. Book that one and by the time you get married and we complete our city hall photo tour it will probably be around 5:00 pm. A very good time to take photos of the staircase with less people around!
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.
This blog post is a little bit marketing oriented, but I decided to post it based upon considerable feedback I have received recently. Quite a number of our city hall wedding photography clients have acted surprised that we also photograph large full scale weddings. In fact, we were recently told that we missed out on a potential wedding because one of our city hall clients had no idea that we had experience with large formal weddings. The fact is we have been photographing San Francisco and Bay Area weddings for over 20 years. Our experience with City Hall photography has certainly helped us with our knowledge of some of the best places to take our bride and grooms.
Our San Francisco wedding experience has taken us all over the city and to many of the churches and venues available. Some of our favorite places for ceremonies include Saint Ignatius Churchand the beautiful North Beach Church, Saints Peters and Paul. We have photographed multiple weddings at these amazing and historic San Francisco Catholic churches. Other Favorite venues of ours include The Bently Reserve and the Italian Athletic Cluba North Beach favorite!
Once the wedding is completed there are so many great places to take our couples for some of the best wedding photography locations in Northern California. As our regular readers know, we love to take out clients to The Legion of Honor, The Palace of Fine Arts, Russian Hill, Baker Beach and so many other fantastic San Francisco destinations!
Many of our San Francisco City Hall wedding couples like us to photograph a formal engagement session prior to their marriage. We can make a package for any couple that includes a San Francisco engagement session at any of the popular city locations. Our most popular location continues to be The Palace of Fine Arts, but there are many others. We take our couples to Russian Hill, North Beach and the Legion of Honor to name just few. Believe it or not, we even sometimes do our sessions at San Francisco City Hall!
Engagement Session in Marin County
Our most recent engagement shoot occurred in Marin County at Cavallo Point close to Sausalito. This was a fantastic location for the session especially with it’s unique angles to the Golden Gate bridge and the view of San Francisco. In the image below, we placed our future bride and groom on the Break Water with the bridge in the background. It was about 1 hour before sunset when we set this up.
Golden Gate Bridge from Cavallo Point
From this angle we found a great looking cliff that was right up against the San Francisco Bay. We placed our couple up on the cliff and took a series of images of them with a few different suggested poses.
We finished up our shoot in the bar at the Cavallo Point Lodge. A very cute bar and one of our couple’s favorites. It turned out that this bar was one of their favorite stopping points over the past few years. So what a great place to finish up the session. We look forward to photographing their San Francisco City Hall wedding in May of 2018. To see more images of city hall weddings and engagement sessions click on our City Hall Gallery Link
We constantly are asked before our San Francisco city hall wedding photography bookings to suggest great local florists. Although there are none that we work with exclusively, we can give you some of the more popular names that our brides have used in the past.
Rose Bowl Florist is by far one of the most frequently used wedding florist close to San Francisco City Hall. Probably the main reason for this is just that, their proximity to SF city hall. In fact, they were walking distance away. We have seen nothing but great reviews for this company including on their Yelp page. We can recommend this florist without hesitation.
Bella Fiora is another very well known local wedding florist. They are not as close as Rose Bowl, but do an exceptional job. Their proximity to San Francisco’s famed Nob Hill makes them a little more pricey, but with great quality. Another shop with great Yelp reviews and quite popular with city hall brides.
The Floral Loft is not a florist that we have personal experience with, but we have heard good things. They are located fairly close to city hall and have incredible Yelp Reviews with over 85 experiences documented. Even though we cannot personally recommend them, the writing seems to be on the wall for this fine San Francisco Florist.
Nob Hill Floristis another San Francisco Wedding florist that we are not sure that we have personal experience with. It definitely seems like we have had brides tell us about this company though! Again, just looking at their Yelp page I see a couple of things. First of all, they have nothing but 5 star reviews which is pretty incredible. Also important is the fact that as you go through the reviews, you see many pictures of city hall weddings featured. Not sure about the pricing on this company, but they are definitely worth checking out!
Wedding Photography at City Hall with Flowers
One of the reasons we are providing this information is that it kinds of goes along with our very strong recommendation that all brides have a bouquet for their city hall wedding. Despite San Francisco city hall’s amazing beauty there is one small flaw – not much color. The walls and floors are either white or gray. Beautiful architecture for sure, but very neutral colors. We have found that the perfect thing to set off these gorgeous backgrounds is a splash of color that is provided by a nice bouquet. It also gives the bride something to do with her hands!
We often are asked by our clients to suggest restaurants near to San Francisco City Hall. Many of our brides and grooms want to celebrate their wedding vows at a nearby eatery without having to get in the car and fight traffic. As luck would have it, there are quite a few local restaurants in the vicinity of City Hall. Some are only a couple of blocks away. Listed below our some of our favorites in no particular order:
Jardiniere – Exceptional upscale cuisine with French influence. They feature small bites elegantly prepared with a fantastic environment. If you are looking for romantic dining this is the place to go. They also have an amazing wine list and dedicated wine expert who will serve you the wine and discuss it with you. A great dining experience and only 1 block from San Francisco City Hall. Check out the Jardiniere website for more information.
Absinthe – Another personal favorite in the Hayes Valley area. Absinthe is probably the place that most city hall couples choose when they want a nearby dinner celebration. The wonderful thing about Absinthe is that it has a dedicated wedding reception facility right next to the eatery. This spacious dining area provides the couple with excellent privacy. The service here is amazing and the food if wonderful. Try the French Onion Soup, it’s fantastic. The Absinthe website has a lot of excellent information.
Patxi’s Pizza – It is a pretty good walk from San Francisco City Hall but well worth it. If you are looking for something much less expensive but still good food, this the place. A much more casual dining experience, but with nice decor. Patxi’s is known for their Chicago style pizza, but I actually prefer the smaller signature pizzas they serve. Some Italian influence makes for some great individual style Pizzas. Get 2 and share! This is probably not the ideal place to bring a large wedding party, but it might be fun for a quick late lunch bite. Patxi’s Pizza San Francisco
Soluna Cafe – Definitely a favorite of the city hall wedding crowd. They host wedding receptions there or small parties. This is probably the closest eatery to city hall. It’s basically right across the square and less than a 5 minute walk. Known for the innovative cuisine and great bar set up. This place receives very high marks from Yelp and is a personal favorite. To obtain more information please check out the Soluna website.
Yes, I know you are probably thinking that you have seen this type of article over and over again. It is usually written by frustrated professional wedding photographers who are begging you to understand why it is so important to hire a pro. The author will usually go on and on about the quality of work, the superior equipment and sharper and clearer pictures. They will also spend considerable time discussing the pitfalls of having a friend do your wedding photography because they are likely to mess things up and/or take blurry images. When I sat down to write this article for my blog, I decided I wanted to approach it differently. Rather than stating the obvious, I wanted to provide my audience with some unique issues that they probably didn’t realize. This blog post is also specifically about City Hall wedding photography since that is what this blog is all about!
Safety and Security
What are some of the nightmare issues I have heard about from clients about their friends shooting weddings for others? Corruption of data, bad Flash Cards, hard drive crashes and insufficient backup systems are among the problems we hear the most about. Professional City Hall wedding photographers including myself have a pretty complicated back up system. Most of our pro cameras write each image photographed to 2 cards simultaneously. This helps to lower the odds greatly that a Card Failure or corruption will wipe out your wedding memories. Many of the so called “Prosumer” cameras do not have this feature. Every photo I take is written to 2 cards with one being a backup for the other. I hold on to one of the cards without deleting it until my clients have their images in their own possession. This eliminates the possibility of loss or other failures.
If you have Uncle Bob do your San Francisco city hall wedding photography, chances are he will take your photos and then put them on a hard drive at his home. Or he may just give you the cards. Does this sound like a safe way to handle your precious memories? Certainly not! What if you lose the cards that he gives you? What if his Hard Drive crashes or he has a house fire? Does he have off-premises back up? I am sure he does not. When I shoot a city hall wedding, my cards go directly on my Computer hard drive. Within seconds, they are also copied to my external hard drive. They are simultaneously backed up to an off-premises location and then eventually uploaded to your secure site for viewing. As I previously mentioned, I also keep one of the cards until the client receives their images. So when you hire me as your wedding photographer, your images are basically backed up in 5 differently places temporarily and 3 places permanently. Your wedding is a precious memory, it is not worth the risk of losing everything.
Tricky SF City Hall Lighting
Yes, this is a beautiful wedding venue and a great place for wedding photography, but is it easy to take pictures here? Not really. The huge windows and uneven lighting can give you fits. There are some places that are impossible to shoot without a flash because of the strong backlighting. We often wonder how some of the people we see shooting weddings without any professional lighting can get anything resembling a good result. There are certain places in City Hall that are very dark. Other places have unattractive overhead lighting. This type of natural lighting will give all of your subjects “Raccoon Eyes”. While it is true that there some some incredible locations at the city hall venue with amazing natural light, it’s not always easy to capture it. It takes practice and experience to master the interior photos taken at city hall.
City Hall Major Events
One of the unknown things about San Francisco city hall is that they schedule large events throughout the week during the same time that weddings are occurring. This is often surprising to many people and they don’t know how to handle it. When events are scheduled, City Hall frequently ropes off the Grand Staircase making it impossible to take photos in the area. Since this is probably where about 75% of all photography takes place within city hall, this can be a problem. The advantage of hiring a professional city hall photographer is that they will know other places to take you that are also beautiful and historic. Some of these other areas may not be obvious to your amateur “friend” wedding photographer. I know the first time I did a wedding at city hall, I had no idea about some of these other areas. This one of the huge advantages to hiring a pro. Not only do they know where to take you to avoid the crowds, but they also know about the “secret” locations around the building.
The above image shows what it looks like when the Grand Staircase is closed and you cannot go in.
We will post Part 2 of this article tomorrow. Stay tuned!
It can be a challenge to park in San Francisco, especially anything close to Downtown. We often get asked asked by our brides and grooms about the best places to park around city hall for their wedding. There are a number of options and I will start with the most simple one:
The Civic Center Parking Garage. This is probably the most convenient of all of the nearby options at City Hall. There is ample room and the lot rarely fills up. Recently they have raised their pricing so it’s no longer the bargain it once was. However, it is still less expensive than parking downtown and it is walking distance from the the entrance to City Hall. It’s also covered parking which provides an extra level of safety. For more details including parking rates and closing times, click this link: Civic Center Parking
The War Memorial Opera House Garage. Another nearby option is at the Opera House behind San Francisco city hall off of Van Ness. It may appear to be a little farther away, but in reality it’s about the same distance assuming you use the back entrance to city hall. Just cross Van Ness street and you are there. It also offers covered parking and decent pricing. It’s usually available unless there is a big event going on there (like the opera!). But since most city hall weddings are during the day, you should be able to park here with no problem. Click here for details on Opera House parking.
Civic Center Street Parking. If you don’t need covered parking, there are quite a few spots on the street around City Hall. The pricing is better but some are limited in time. If you are going to be in the building for less than 2 hours, this might be a good option. Just remember that city hall weddings rarely occur on time so you need to allow some cushion. Its actually quite possible to find spots right across the street from city hall. There is also a nice service available to help you locate and reserve street parking. For more information click here: Reserved Street Parking
The above options are the most common ways that brides and grooms find parking for their wedding. But there are many other possibilities. This article shows some other great places to park so check it out and happy parking!