Specifics on Enforcing Guess Limit Rule at SF City Hall

Many of our clients, friends and even other City Hall wedding photographers have been asking us about how the new 6 guest limit rule is being enforced. I use the term “new” because despite this rule being in existence for many years, it was never enforced by anyone. Not the County Clerk, not SF city hall security and certainly not the officiants. It’s sudden enforcement has taken many by surprise not only because of its newness, but also because of the inconsistency of how the rule is applied. To summarize, as of May, 2019 San Francisco city hall is only allowing civil ceremonies with 6 guests maximum in attendance. This rule is stated on the San Francisco city hall website and has now become strictly enforced. But how is it enforced?

3rd Floor Ceremony with private officiant at San Francisco city hall

What Happens?

So of course, that has been the question. Let’s say you walk into the County Clerk’s office with your 12 guests. The first question that is now asked when you check in is: “How many guests do you have today?” You let them know that you have 12 and that’s when the discussions start. Depending upon the officiant you have or the time of the day there are a number of things that may happen. With all of the uncertainty, I decided to go to the top person I know in the County Clerks office and asked them. What IS the rule? The answer came back swiftly and strong. If you have more than 6, you will be forced to have your ceremony in the Private room. They will no longer allow you to have that large of a ceremony in the Rotunda. Period. I went further and asked what happens if they have so many guests that they will not fit in the private room (fits about 20, but very crowded). Basically the answer came back that we will stuff as many people in the private room as possible and the rest just have to wait outside. In practice, we have seen other ways of handling larger crowds, but its probably because they were still trying to figure out how to fairly treat brides and groom getting married at city hall. It seems now that the rules are going to be strictly enforced.

What are our Options?

You have showed up to your San Francisco city hall wedding with too many people, what can you do? One option that some people are doing is to just bring 6 people into the Rotunda and the other will have to watch from afar. You can also use the Private room, but then do your own celebration later in other parts of SF city hall. If you have the time and the money, you can book a reserved ceremony at the Mayors Balcony or 4th Floor North Gallery for the price of $1,000 for 1 hour. But this would have to be done well in advance of your wedding date.

Easy Wedding Photography

Candid city hall ceremony image
Fun Walking shot at City Hall in San Francisco

What do we mean by “Easy Wedding Photography” and how is it accomplished? Why even try to make it easy? Easy for who?

I decided to write this blog post in response to a very common concern among engaged couples looking for a city hall wedding photographer. These types of concerns are especially prevalent with grooms:

  • Will wedding photography dominate our day?
  • Are we going to have to do a lot of silly poses?
  • Is the wedding photographer going to be difficult to deal with?
  • Will we feel uncomfortable during the formal shoot?
  • Will the wedding photographer listen to our concerns or suggestions?

Notice that none of these VERY common questions have anything to do with the quality, quantity or cost of the wedding photos. Yes, you would think that our clients would be more concerned about those types of issues. After all, isn’t that the most important thing? We all want great photos and lots of them for a low price. Oddly enough, however, we receive a great many emails and calls asking questions that are more related to the how the shoot will go and what will be required. I recently almost lost a wedding booking because the groom decided that he didn’t want to go through with hiring a professional city hall wedding photographer because he thought it would make him feel uncomfortable to pose for pictures. After some reassurance that I would strive to make the photo shoot “easy” the couple went ahead and booked.

San Francisco City Hall couple waiting to get married

Keeping Wedding Photography Comfy

So it is obvious that this is a valid concern among our clients. Who wants to have no fun on their wedding day? Who wants to spend the entire day taking wedding photos? With a few exceptions, the answer is nobody. Most people want to have brilliant wedding photos with a small amount of fuss and time spent. Is this realistic? The answer really depends upon the expectation of the couple. Consistent with this same topic, many of our engaged couples let us know that they want mostly candid photos on their wedding day. I always let them know that we are happy to provide them any type of photography coverage that they prefer, but I am also quick to point out that San Francisco City Hall weddings may not have as many candid moments as a typical wedding would have. There is no dancing, no cake cutting, no toasts and often times no guests. The candid moments need to be created by the wedding photographer in most cases. We do this by having the couple walk hand-in-hand through out the building and interact as though they were just touring the building. But obviously not all of the photos can be walking shots. We mix it up and try to put the newlyweds in other interactive situations. We even might sit them down on the Grand Staircase and just have them interact and talk. Some of our best images can be born out of these contrived situations. Keep the wedding photography easy and you will end up with great final images!

Laughing while posing for pictures at SF city hall

Embrace the Crowds at SF City Hall

This short blog post is going to run counter to everything you read and hear about San Francisco city hall wedding photography.  All we ever talk about as wedding photographers at this venue is how to avoid the crowds and trying to not have people in the background of our photos.  While there is some merit to this,  I am going to discuss a different approach.  Yes, city hall is a public building and the tourists have every right to be there even if they sometimes seem to not notice that they are in the way.  My brides and grooms are always asking me the best times of the day to avoid people and also the slowest day of the week at city hall.   I certainly understand their concerns and I do try to accommodate their wishes.  But there is another option……

Love the Crowds at City Hall

No I have not gone nuts.  But recently something happened that made me think.  We were in the middle of a wedding photography shoot and suddenly got disrupted by a protest march.  Normally the reaction would be for me to take my couple and go somewhere else to avoid the noise and the people .  But the groom had different ideas…. He wanted a photo of him and his wife right in front of the protest gathering.  In fact, when I took the picture he raised his fist as though he was part of the protest.  I have to admit that this picture turned out great and was not only fun, but also instructive.  Sure, the goal is to get creative and romantic photos in this great building.  But why not get some pictures that show very clearly that this is a public building.    When I think about it, I see lots of crazy and fun things that happen every day we are at city hall taking pictures of our newly married couples.   What kinds of things?  Here is a list:

  • Quinceneara Photo Shoots – These brightly colored 15 year old girls come into city hall with their photographers and take over certain parts of the venue.  Their photographers often take way too long on the Grand Staircase and bring large lighting equipment.  We avoid them as much as we can.
  • Protest Marches – San Francisco city hall is a popular place for protests and at times they come in the building.  Even if they don’t they can often easily be found right outside at the entrance.
  • School Tours – City Hall is “invaded” quite frequently by mobs of school kids touring the facility and learning about government.  Depending upon their ages they can be an unruly bunch!
  • Dramatic Portrait Shoots –  Professional photographers will often take their subjects to city hall to get photos.  The subject matter can range from ballerina dancers to people dressed as animals.
  • Service Dogs – City Hall allows Service dogs to enter the building with their companions.  Sometimes causing some pretty crazy moments as the dogs react to their surroundings.
  • Political Speeches –  Yes, San Francisco city hall attracts and arranges for candidates and politicians to come in the building and make their case.

There are many more examples, but you get the point.  Rather than trying to always avoid these things, we can sometimes use them as a backdrop to our wedding photography shoot.  Putting the couple in a natural setting and showing what was going on that day can add yet another memory to their special day.  The humor in the situation will also help the couple not feel so unhappy about the disruption.  We will still get their great romantic pictures, but we will also add a little fun!

Places to Eat Near SF City Hall

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.

Ballerina Bride at City Hall

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:

 

Ballerina Bride at City Hall
Ballerina Bride

Bride by Window at City Hall

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!

Bride looking out the window
Bride looking out the window

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:

Dance Moves at City Hall
Dance Moves at City Hall

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.

Romantic kiss from groom to bride
Romantic kiss from groom to bride

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.

Christmas Wedding at City Hall

Christmas at San Francisco City Hall is always a wonderful time.  The place is always very busy and the giant Christmas tree becomes the center point of this great wedding venue.  For the past few years the tree has been decorated with Origami which makes for a very unique look.  In addition, when evening comes the light reflects off of the Origami and creates patterns on the walls at city hall.  It’s a pretty amazing scene.  We photographed 6 weddings this year during the Christmas season and each one had it’s own unique feel.  The primary reason for this Blog post is to just display a few photos from one of our larger weddings this Christmas season.

Bridal Portrait by the 3rd floor North Window
Bridal Portrait by the 3rd floor North Window

We started our formal shoot on the 3rd floor because city hall was pretty crowded and we were having trouble finding places without people in the background.   This particular wedding was on a Friday which is definitely one of the most crowded days of the week.  We have learned over the years where and when to take our brides and grooms once things get crowded.  The 3rd floor is one of those places!

Wedding Kiss at City Hall
Wedding Kiss at City Hall

Once we completed our time on the 3rd floor, we headed back down to the Christmas Tree to get a few nice shots.  Again, there were people everywhere and virtually no room to photograph the couple in the traditional place facing the Rotunda.  Fortunately, we have alternative angles into the tree that is off to the side.  Even though it’s a pretty obvious angle, many photographers without experience at city hall don’t know about it.  We  were able to get some fairly private images in front of the tree before moving on to our next location.

Christmas tree with bride and groom
Christmas tree with bride and groom

We spent over 1.5 hours at San Francisco city hall touring around taking photos and having fun.  We managed to get all of the shots that most people always ask us about including the Grand Staircase and the 4th floor North Gallery.  This despite the fact that City Hall had scheduled 7 reserved weddings that day, which usually brings a large number of people into the building.  We were lucky to walk up to the beautiful North Gallery just when one wedding was ending and another was about to be set up.

Golden Gate Bridge with Wedding Couple
Golden Gate Bridge with Wedding Couple

Once we completed our City Hall photo tour, we drove the couple to Fort Point to get some professional wedding pictures  with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.  The couple’s family also showed up at Fort Point allowing us to include them in many of the photos.  It was a fantastic way to end our day.