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.
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.
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.
I thought it would be fun to do an ongoing series on some of our favorite past weddings and couples. We have had so many great experiences in our 400 plus San Francisco city hall weddings that it is really hard to focus on just a few, but some do stand out due to the fun time we had. We will feature 2 weddings with each blog post. To see more wedding please go to our CITY HALL HOME PAGE
San Francisco City Hall Staircase Waving Goodbye
Tracy and James – City Hall 2013
This couple was one among our first 10 San Francisco city hall weddings and was really one of our best to that point. We were just starting to learn some of the secrets to finding the best spots at city hall and what time of the day to shoot at particular locations. Tracey especially was up for anything and wanted to try lots of new poses and ideas. We did extreme dip poses, Window shots and some new Grand Staircase ideas. A bonus for this wedding is that Tracy submitted some of our shots to the J. Crew catolog and got our wedding featured on that publication for a few years. Here are a few shots from this great wedding.
Deep Dance Dip Post at City Hall San Francisco window image Leg Kick on the Mayors Balcony
April and Michael – City Hall 2014
This wedding was one of our first marriages where the couple asked us to provide them with extensive yet affordable wedding photography coverage that also included taking pictures at their Reception. We provided April and Michael with a special package that included full city hall wedding coverage and 3 locations around San Francisco. We finished up in Downtown SF at their reception site. Throughout this extensive wedding photography tour they were always a delight to work with and so much fun.
Ring Exchange at City Hall ceremony Wedding Reception in San Francisco
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.
The month of January is always our slowest time period for city hall weddings. It’s in the middle of the winter and there is no special event or holiday in January. December of course is always busy due to the Beautiful Christmas tree and brides and grooms just like to get married at that time of the season. February features Valentine’s Day and we always have weddings right around this date. Many engaged couples actually choose to have their nuptials on this romantic holiday! Given this slight lull, I thought it would be helpful to take the time to discuss some of our favorite destinations in San Francisco that we take our city hall wedding couples.
Iconic San Francisco Destinations
We take our couples throughout San Francisco after our city hall wedding photography sessions. Here are some of the best san francisco wedding photographer locations:
Palace of Fine Arts
This is by far the most popular wedding photography destination. Especially chosen frequently by our international brides and grooms. It has a very large area for wedding photography with lots of options. The beautiful building is obviously the centerpiece, but there are large columns everywhere to use as a backdrop. The only negative is the amount of tourists here. Depending upon the time of day, it can be hard to find space without people looming in the background.
Legion of Honor
Another popular wedding photography spot, but fortunately MUCH less traveled by tourists. The Legion of Honor offers beautiful Beaux-Arts style architecture which many of San Francisco’s older buildings possess. We love taking our city hall brides and grooms around the inner open area and pose them between the gray repeating columns. The light is also fantastic here from a wedding photography standpoint. This is because you have indirect light that comes in from the side, but is also reflected by the neutral tones of the building. Perfect for a rainy day as well!
The Golden Gate Bridge
This is an obvious one, but there are many options and decisions to make. We try to help our newly married couples decide by providing them with the best possible information and ideas. Late in the afternoon you can approach the bridge from Ocean by Baker Beach. This provides nice warm light on the bridge and enhances the colors. Earlier in the morning, we often like to take pictures of our brides and grooms from the San Francisco Bay side of the bridge. This will often provide very nice dimensional lighting on the Golden Gate. Listed below are some of the most common angles to approach wedding photography of the bridge
Legion of Honor
17th Hole of Lincoln Park
Battery East Vista
Golden Gate Overlook
Marin County side
This completes part one of our San Francisco City Hall wedding photo destination options. We will be adding more locations next week, please stay tuned!
We love all of our brides and grooms and always make sure we work to get great images of all of them. However, every once in a while we are lucky enough to book a couple that are naturals. This particular couple included a groom who had taken Ball Room dancing lessons and a bride who was a Ballerina. We had a fantastic time with them at San Francisco City Hall with them booking our City Hall PLUS package which provided them with 2 hours of coverage including the ceremony and family photos.
To make things even more fun, the bride wore a unique wedding dress that you don’t normally see at City Hall. It was a totally fun dress and matched the personality of the woman wearing it. Here is what it looked like:
Once the ceremony took place in the Rotunda we photographed a few images of their family and friends. The family members were all amazing and absolutely supportive of us and our wedding photography efforts. We spent some time talking to them and discussing some of the finer points of City Hall weddings and then we took the bride and groom around the building for their photo tour. We visited every single floor of City Hall starting with the Grand Staircase and then up to the 2nd Floor to get some shots in the hallway. We knew we had to make sure we took them up to the 3rd floor to take advantage of the beautiful window light so we headed there next. Here is one of our window shots!
We finished up on the amazing 4th Floor North Gallery at city hall which is probably the most beautiful location in the building for natural light. It was here that we took advantage of our client’s posing talents and tried some dance related poses. The 2 of them pulled off all of our poses with relative ease. We took a number of bride and groom shots on this floor including this one:
We also needed to include some romantic wedding photos to show the close connection between the bride and groom. This kind of posing is quite easy when your couple has that type of bond.
We finished up our photo shoot in typical fashion by taking the couple to the Famous City Hall sign on the Polk Street entrance to the building.