Get the Most out of your City Hall Wedding Experience

3rd Floor Window Bride at SF City Hall

So you are getting married at San Francisco city hall and want to make the most of it. You and your future spouse have agreed that to save money you should have a civil ceremony without all the fuss and expense of a large San Francisco wedding. But this is your wedding and you want it to be memorable and fun. What do you do?

Choose the Reserved Ceremony Option

Yes, I know that SF city hall reserved weddings costs $1,000 instead of around $100, but this is your wedding. What is another $900? This will allow you to invite lots of guests (up to 80 people) and have some privacy. But most of all, it will provide you with your own area in San Francisco city hall to call your own. For 1 hour you can spend time with your guests and not have to worry about tourists walking through and being disruptive. You don’t have to worry about the County Clerk telling you when your nuptials will be performed. As long as the ceremony occurs within your 1 hour time window, you have complete freedom. For those who don’t want the 3 minute standard ceremony, this is the way to go. You can create your own vows and add religious references to your ceremony if that is important to you and your spouse. San Francisco city hall civil ceremonies cannot include privately recited vows. There just isn’t enough time since they are trying to do 3 weddings at every half hour.

San Francisco city hall bride adjusts her wedding dress

Take a Mini Tour of San Francisco City Hall

A tour on your wedding day? Allow me to explain. San Francisco city hall DOES in fact have its own self guided tour or you can actually do one of their Docent tours. You want to make sure everyone is on time to your wedding? Let your wedding guests know that there is going to be a tour before the ceremony and give them the time. This accomplished 2 things: 1. It gets your guests parked and through security early and ready to attend your wedding; 2. It is a very interesting tour and you and your guests will learn some interesting facts.

It’s not so odd to do something like this on your wedding day. Many weddings that now take place in wineries and special restaurants or other famous places will include tastings or tours. It’s all in fun!

Hire an Experienced Professional City Hall Wedding Photographer

This is a no-brainer. You need to have your special memories recorded for all time, but you also owe it to yourself to take a wedding photography tour of San Francisco city hall with somebody who knows all the best spots to take photos in this historic building. In addition, if its a busy day or an event going on, a professional wedding photographer will know how to handle adversity.

False Alarm at City Hall

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.

Couple waiting  patiently in line
couple waiting patiently in line

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!

Beyond Wedding Photos

Checking in with the County Clerk
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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!

Happy Bride and Groom with Marriage Certificate and officiant
Happy Bride and Groom with Marriage Certificate and officiant

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!

Groom kissing bride on the 3rd floor of SF City Hall
Groom kissing bride on the 3rd floor of SF City Hall

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.

Bride and groom in front of city hall sign while twirling her dress.
Bride and groom in front of city hall sign while twirling her dress.

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!

Simple Way to Find the Right City Hall Wedding Photographer For YOU!

I am sure you are thinking this is easy right? Just look at the photos on the Wedding Photographer’s website! Well, if it was that easy, brides wouldn’t spend hours searching for their ideal SF City Hall wedding photographer. I decided to write this post because of the things I have heard from the hundreds of brides (and grooms) I have interviewed over the past many years. Some negative and some positive.

Candid shot of the couple checking in for their city hall wedding in San Francisco, CA
Candid shot of the couple checking in for their city hall wedding in San Francisco, CA

One of the biggest decisions engaged couples need to make is who should they choose to be their wedding photographer. This might even be more important when it comes to City Hall photographers. Why? Because there are so many photographers specializing in this type of wedding photography and it can be confusing. As I look at the different City Hall photographers, I see many of the same poses in the same locations. It is clear that everyone is copying each other in many cases. So how do you decide and how do you keep it simple?

Having fun during their civil ceremony at SF city hall
Having fun during their civil ceremony at SF city hall

Avoid “Best Of” Portfolio Galleries

When you search for the perfect city hall wedding photographer for you, its important to not get caught up in websites that only show 1 or 2 of the best shots from each marriage. Yes, you are going to be attracted to this particular photographer because they are sure to display some amazing photos. While there is nothing wrong with that, it may not indicate how YOUR wedding images will ultimately look like. The fact is, when you take 300 photos at a typical city hall wedding you are bound to get a couple of amazing images. I am not saying it is only a matter of luck, certainly seeing images with impact is a prerequisite to exploring this particular photographer further.

Romantic shot of the bride and groom with her ring
Romantic shot of the bride and groom with her ring

Search for Complete City Hall Weddings

Once that initial attraction is over, you need to go deeper into the photographer’s website. The first thing you should look for is a complete gallery of ONE WEDDING!   Hopefully the photographer will have a few to show off and with at least 20 photos each. You want to see the entire coverage of this city hall wedding from start to finish. From candid shots showing the couple’s County Clerk Check-in all the way to the final shot when they say good bye in front of the San Francisco City Hall sign. There should be ceremony shots, posed shots, candids and even family pictures. Yes, what if you thought you hired the perfect wedding photographer only to find out they can’t put together a pleasant looking family photo for you. Backgrounds are important and so is the way the family is arranged and made to react to the photo. Now all that is left is to evaluate the quality of each of the photos and determine if it fits your own personal style.

The Grand Staircase at Christmas time.  A mix of black and white and color in San Francisco.
The Grand Staircase at Christmas time. A mix of black and white and color in San Francisco.

Interview the Wedding Photographer

After you have looked at websites and narrowed the field down to a select few, make some phone calls. Make sure you are talking on the phone to the wedding photographer and not a receptionist trained to deal with prospects. This part is very important, it will give you a sense of the city hall photographer’s personality and style. But most crucial is how they interact with you on the phone! If they start asking you questions about your wedding and the types of things you are looking for, this is a very good sign. It means that they care about pleasing you and not just looking for another sale. This is obviously your chance to ask questions as well, but it is very important that the conversation is 2-way and not just a canned marketing speech by the city hall photographer. Ask questions that will reveal their knowledge of the building and the whole process of getting married there. Come right out and ask them how many weddings they have photographed at San Francisco city hall and for how long. The answers to these questions will tell you a lot!

San Francisco City Hall Entrance with happy newlyweds
San Francisco City Hall Entrance with happy newlyweds

Check Yelp and Other Reviews

Once you have interviewed a few city hall photographers and are satisfied with their responses and experience, it is time to do a background check. Yelp can be very helpful and other sites such as Wedding Wire and The Knot. However, here again, it’s important to reach deeper. The fact that your chosen wedding photographer has 60 – 5 star reviews is not as important as HOW they received these great reviews. Read the details of what some of the more recent reviews had to say. This will also help you learn about their style and how they deal with their clients.

Keep it simple and straightforward and you will soon know that you found the right city hall wedding photographer for you!

Past Favorite City Hall Weddings

April and Michael posing at San Francisco City Hall April and Michael posing at SF City Hall

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 San Francisco City Hall StaircaseWaving Goodbye 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 Deep Dance Dip Post at City HallSan Francisco window image at city hall San Francisco window imageLeg Kick on the Mayors Balcony 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 Exwedding ring exchange at City Hall ceremony Ring Exchange at City Hall ceremonyWedding Reception in San Francisco Wedding Reception in San Francisco

Why Book a Pro Wedding Photographer Part 2

Continuing from our most recent post about why to hire a Professional City Hall Wedding Photographer:

Best City Hall Photographer
Best City Hall Photographer

Guiding you through the Process

This is one advantage that most brides and grooms don’t think about.  Yes, we know how to help you with the whole city hall wedding process.  From procuring your wedding license to checking in at the County Clerks’s office and then finally the ceremony.  Is this kind of assistance really necessary?  Probably not, but if you want to truly enjoy your wedding day, it makes sense to let someone else handle the complicated process of having your civil ceremony at city hall.  We find that most of our couples really are at a loss of where to go and what to do on the day of their ceremony.  When do you bring in the witness?  Why are we checking in?  Where do we get married?  These are common questions we are asked when we first meet our engaged couples on the day of their wedding.  To make the day go smoothly, we simply guide the couple through each step and stay with them the whole time.  Our couples love this and it makes their special day care free.

Posing the  Married Couple at City Hall

While it is true that your friend or relative who is “really good with a camera” may be able to take high quality images that are in focus, chances are they will not know how to pose the couple.   This is where most amateur wedding photographers fall down on the job.  Not coming up with fun and unique poses and more importantly, not knowing how to make the bride look her best.  Brides come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and each one of them deserves a professional wedding photographer who knows how to accentuate the good parts and hide the less than perfect aspects of the bride’s look.  This is not something that just anyone can do without any training or experience.  A professional wedding photography can take one look at the couple and know exactly how to handle the posing.   Your wedding day is too important of an event to leave to chance.

Final Products – Wedding Albums and Prints

What happens when your San Francisco City Hall wedding is over?  If you hired a professional wedding photographer, you will receive edited images within a month or less in most cases.  We deliver ours to our married couples in 3 weeks.  If you have your Uncle Bob photograph your wedding, when will you receive the photos?  When will he get to it?  With they even be professionally edited?  There are many reading this article right now thinking, big deal, we can do all of this ourselves.    The truth of the matter is that statistics show that most wedding couples do absolutely nothing with their wedding digital files.  Sure, they may post a few on Social Media and maybe even make a print on their home Inkjet printer.  But is this really how that should be handled?  We offer our couples retouched professionally  processed prints and beautiful wedding albums as options.  Many of our clients take advantage of this.  Even those that do not are assured of receiving a finished product after their wedding.  Fully edited and perfectly exposed wedding pictures!

Elegant pose at SF City Hall done by a professional wedding photographer
Elegant pose at SF City Hall

City Hall Sign Entrance Photos

Celebrating at the Main Entrance to San Francisco City Hall
Celebrating at the Main Entrance to San Francisco City Hall

One of the first things our clients ask us when we begin our City Hall wedding photography shoot is the sign picture.  They all ask: “Can we do the City Hall sign photo?”  I always let them know that of course we will, but it is best to save it for last because we avoid having to through building security twice.  I remember one particular groom seemed agitated during the whole city hall photography tour and I finally asked him if he was OK.  He told me he couldn’t understand why we were not taking a photo with the sign, but didn’t want to seem pushy.   Once I explained to him why we save it for last he felt a lot better.

Carrying the Bride out of San Francisco City Hall
Carrying the Bride out of San Francisco City Hall

There are many variations to this ending shot.  You can do a simple posed shot and walking shot or celebration photo.  No matter what we end up doing with each couple, I think it is important for this photo to say something about the bride and groom.  Some couples want to be animated and be celebratory.  Others prefer a more traditional posed image.

Walking from City Hall out into beautiful San Francisco
Walking from City Hall out into beautiful San Francisco

Recently we have starting doing a few photos of the couple inside the building behind the sign.  Of course taking the photo from this location causes the words to be reversed.  Sometimes we keep them reversed, but others we have to flip it around using Photoshop.  The 2 images below were both flipped:

Inside of City Hall with the entrance sign
Inside of City Hall with the entrance sign

Maternity photography at San Francisco City Hall
Maternity photography at San Francisco City Hall

Some of our couples prefer to do more natural photos in front of the sign.  We will ask them to walk out of the building and raise their arms in a celebratory fashion.   “Yay, we did it! We got married at San Francisco city hall!”   These types of shots always give you the most bang for your buck in terms of showing emotion and fun.

We also try to match our couple to the type of San Francisco City Hall sign pose.  For example, in the photo below, we thought it would be fun to spoof the famous movie “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

A Officer and a Gentleman Movie
An Officer and a Gentleman Movie Pose

Great SF City Hall Weddings in June

LGBT Weddings at City Hall

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.

June Wedding Photography at City Hall

June City Hall bride holding her train
June City Hall bride holding her train

June Couple doing the Dip!
June Couple doing the Dip!

Outside of San Francisco city hall
Outside of San Francisco city hall

June LGBT Wedding
June LGBT Wedding

Same-Sex Wedding Photography in the Month of June
Same-Sex Wedding Photography in the Month of June

Grooms leaving San Francisco City Hal
Grooms leaving San Francisco City Hal

San Francisco Wedding Photographer

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.

Wedding Photographer Bay Area

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 Church  and 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 Club a North Beach favorite!

Bridal Portrait

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!

Best Wedding Florists in San Francisco

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 Florist is 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!