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!

Living in San Francisco

The San Francisco Life

Kissing in Front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Kissing in Front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

I am a rare breed, an actual San Francisco native.  I was born in the city and lived there for many years with my family.  Our neighborhood happened to be the famous Haight Ashbury District and I lived there in in the 1960’s during the Hippie era.  I remember walking through the Pan Handle and literally stepping over Hippies lying in the streets as I walked with my classmates to school.   It was quite an experience and a different time.   We used to play outside by ourselves with no fear.  I could walk home from school by myself and we didn’t think it was any big deal.  As a young adult I attended the University of San Francisco, which was walking distance from where I lived as a child.  So what does any of this have to do with wedding photography in San Francisco?  Keep reading to find out….

San Francisco as Inspiration

The San Francisco community fancies itself as an art society.   People here are very in touch with their “right brain”.  What does this mean?  Right brainers are focused on creative pursuits and art.  San Francisco inspires artists to create.  It’s hard to define, but I just know that many of the best San Francisco wedding photographers are concerned with providing their clients with more than just traditional images.   They want to use San Francisco as a backdrop for amazing creative and  historic images.  It is easy to do here, because the city offers so much.  Having grown up here, I find myself very much in tune with the beauty and history all around us.  We love taking our clients to beautiful places like The Palace of Fine Arts and the Legion of Honor.  We want to show our couples different aspects of living in San Francisco through wedding photography.   When we take couples on a photo tour of the city, we talk about the lifestyle and also show examples.  When it comes to San Francisco, it is more than just the beauty, it’s the culture and  the history.   I know it may be over reaching a little bit, I truly think that many of our brides and grooms like to  feel the whole San Francisco persona.

Christmas at city hall in San Francisco Christmas at city hall in San Francisco

San Francisco Landmarks

The city has so many amazing landmarks and historical locations to take our couples.  The Grand Staircase in the photo above is one of these San Francisco Landmarks.  Tourists flock to see it and take pictures of it.  It makes for a great wedding photography background as you can see.  On any given day, you will find many San Francisco residents enjoying the beauty and elegance of these places not only in city hall but outside.  This is part of the San Francisco lifestyle, a very easy going pace when compared to other large cities.  Hanging out in Golden Gate park, spending time by the Painted Ladies or just  walking on Baker Beach.  These activities are all part of how people live in the City by the Bay.  The fact that I grew up here makes me even more motivated to show visitors what a fun place it is to live.  It certainly is a great place to be a wedding photographer.

experiencing the San Francisco lifestyle Experiencing the San Francisco lifestyle

We look forward to sharing our vision of San Francisco with all of our clients, brides and grooms or engaged couples whether they live here or are visiting from other countries.

Best City Hall Wedding Photography

San Francisco Wedding Photography at City Hall
San Francisco Wedding Photography at City Hall

Asian Wedding at the Palace of Fine  Arts
Asian Wedding at the Palace of Fine Arts

What are some of the best ways to approach City Hall wedding photography?

  1. Challenging Lighting. One of the trickiest things about taking pictures at San Francisco city hall is the lighting.  Depending upon where you are in the building the lighting can either be amazing or extremely tough to deal with.  For example, the Mayor’s Balcony is difficult because just about any angle shooting away from the balcony towards the rotunda involves heavy back lighting.  The Mayor’s Balcony is not only fairly dark, but everything around it is bathed in natural light.  We often see amateur wedding photographers attempting to shoot their subjects by the railing with out any lighting and ultimately they will mostly just get silhouette images or blown out backgrounds.  Another challenging place to shoot is in the Rotunda area where the city hall ceremonies occur.  The predominate light in this area is from overhead.  So if you shoot in almost any direction your subjects will have “raccoon eyes”.  If you are taking pictures in the Rotunda, position yourself with your back to the Mayor’s Balcony and you will get some nice light.  If you have flash, use it!
  2. Crowd Control.  We jokingly refer to this as crowd control but there is some truth to this city hall wedding photography challenge.  The fact is that San Francisco city hall is a public building.  Every single person in the building has the same right to be there as you.   Yes, even if you are getting married!  The best way to handle this simply is to go where people aren’t.  It sounds simple, but virtually every non-professional wedding photographer we see ignores this advice.  They spend the whole photography session on the Grand Staircase as though this was the only place in all of city hall for wedding photography.  The fact is, there are 4 floors that ALL have great backgrounds and architecture to explore.    As you take your couple around the building, keep your eye on the Staircase so when it clears off, you can run down and get some pictures.  Meanwhile, you might find that there are some very nice other locations to photograph.
  3. Leave the Family Behind. We often see amateur city hall wedding photographers taking their whole wedding party around the building with them when shooting the bride and groom.  This is not a good idea for several reasons.  Most importantly, it will make your couple inhibited as they pose for their city hall wedding pictures with an audience. Inevitably, some of the relatives with shout out suggestions and make comments.  This is distracting to the photographer and the subject.  The other issue is that the family and friends will get in the way of your backgrounds.  You will spend more time trying to move the group then actually posing the couple.  Ask the Wedding Party to either wait in the Mint Cafe or just in a neutral area somewhere.  It will make your city hall wedding photography session go much smoother.
  4. Timing is Everything.   I understand that not everyone can control the timing of their San Francisco city hall wedding photography session.  There are many factors that get in the way, most importantly the time of the wedding ceremony.  Also many couples are restricted because of work schedules and can not choose the best days of the week.  However, if some of these things ARE in your control, then by all means choose the best times of the day and best days of the week.  Avoid Fridays if possible because of extreme city hall crowds.   Tuesdays and Wednesdays seem to be the best days of the week for less people.  If you have control of your booking time, then try for early times or late.  There will be less people and especially tourists at those times.

Asian Wedding at SF City Hall
Asian Wedding 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

SF City Hall Wedding Photographer

Dance Dip at SF City Hall
Dance Dip at SF City Hall

We worked with a great couple last week and I wanted to talk about it while it was fresh in my mind.  Yuan and Tracy chose our Golden Gate package which provided them with 1 additional San Francisco photography location after we finished at City Hall.  They choose to go to the Legion of Honor and we drove them there.  One of the things I offer couples who choose this location is the chance to take a quick photo of the Golden Gate bridge in addition to the Legion.  This is because it so close by and easy to access.  We often take couples to the 17th hole at Lincoln Park golf course to get the bridge picture, but this time we went to Lands End.  What a great place to get a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge!  Also present at Lands End are nice walking trails and beautiful tall trees.

The Grand Staircase at city hall in Sepia Tone
The Grand Staircase at city hall in Sepia Tone

City Hall Photography Tour

Before we embarked upon our journey to the Legion of Honor we of course needed to complete our wedding photography tour at San Francisco City Hall.  It was very important to Yuan and Tracy to get a shot of their entire wedding party in front of City Hall’s famed Grand Staircase.  Fortunately, they booked a later ceremony  (3:00 pm) and thus city hall was starting to clear out shortly after we were ready to start their professional wedding photography.  After completing some smaller family combinations, we took everyone down to the bottom of the Staircase including the Bride and Groom.  We managed to have some moments where the staircase became relatively clear of tourists and other weddings allowing us to get a clear shot!  See below to check out their image

Some SF city hall wedding photography
Some SF city hall wedding photography

Once we got this all important photo, we took the couple around the building to take more formal wedding photography.  The shot below was done in the 2nd floor hallway.  We always like to do some fun shots with our brides and grooms to get them warmed up.  We also wanted to figure out if they were interested in doing some more fun photos or preferred to keep it more simple.  We always allow our clients to let us know the style of wedding photography they want.

Affordable Package

The package that Yuan and Tracy choose provided them with 2.5 hours of coverage with that extra location already discussed above. This is the least expensive of our Tour Packages.  Once we completed their wedding photography we took them to the San Francisco location of the reception, Jardiniere.

The Legion of Honor in San Francisco
The Legion of Honor in San Francisco

Kids at City Hall Weddings

Assign a Baby Sitter

There are quite a few things to consider when bring your children to your San Francisco city hall wedding.    If they are  still a baby you may want to make sure that you schedule your wedding to work around their nap time.  The last thing you want is to have the ceremony occur right during their most grumpy time.   Make sure that you bring another adult or older sibling who can watch and entertain the baby if needed.  The preference would be to choose someone who can miss the ceremony in case the baby is crying.  If a family member is watching the baby they may be inclined to stick around during the ceremony which can be quite disruptive.

Involve Them in the Wedding Photos

Children seeing one of their parents getting remarried can experience some jealousy and fear.  It can be a big change in their life and they are liable to wonder how they fit in to the new family.  One thing you can do is to make sure to involve them significantly in the wedding photography portion of the day.  Include them in as many pictures as you can to make them understand that they are important and involved in the the couple’s new life together.  If possible, you may even want to try to include them in the actual city hall wedding ceremony somehow.  Maybe they can hold the wedding rings or the flowers.  Just don’t have them be a bystander like everyone else.  This is your chance to make them feel special.

Fun with our kids in San Francisco

Realize their Limitations

Even though we strongly recommend getting the little ones involved on your San Francisco city hall wedding day, it’s also important to understand that they will be tired at some point.  Make it part of your plan to have someone take the really small children home before they burn out.   You know your kids better than anyone and so you should be able to figure out when they are going to be ready to leave.  It is very important that you have someone who knows them well and can take care of them when needed.   Yes, you want to make sure your kids are involved and happy, but you also need to realize that your wedding day is about the 2 of you!  Make sure to set some time aside for you both!

Bride and Groom kissing daughter
Bride and Groom kissing daughter

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!