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The Best SF City Hall Wedding Photographers

The Best SF City Hall Wedding Photographers

This is meant to be a technical guide for evaluating and choosing the top San Francisco city hall wedding photographers. Realizing that there are many blog posts and articles about this subject, I wanted to approach it a bit differently. There is quite a bit of great advice regarding this subject and I have reviewed many different approaches to helping brides and grooms make this all important decision. Usually the title of these posts has to do with how to choose high level professionals. However, I have found most of the available information to be more general in nature without too much detailed explanation. Some of our clients really want to discuss the more mechanical attributes of what makes a professional wedding photographer among the best. We often receive questions regarding lighting techniques, camera settings, ISO performance and even lens choices. I recently had a bride email me to make sure I planned on bringing professional lighting to her Mayor's Balcony wedding. I like these types of questions because it shows me how much some of our clients care. I will attempt to approach each of these subjects (and more) below. If you want to check out our entire website please click the Home button and view our portfolios.

Special lighting for city hall exit sign photo

Lighting Techniques

Is there really a best way to light a subject indoors? I would say yes, but not all techniques work for all people. There are 3 basic ways to light a subject indoors at San Francisco city hall:

  • On-camera Flash - Strobe light mounted on top of the Camera
  • Off-camera lighting - Light stands with umbrellas or direct strobe
  • Natural Light - Relying on the window light already present in the building
Within these various techniques are different options. On-camera flash can be bounced off the walls to soften the illumination of the subject. Similarly, off-camera light can be bounced or modified with some sort of diffuser. The most common diffuser used at city hall is the umbrella. Is it the best? This is open to discussion.

On-Camera Flash

The only benefit I see with on-camera flash is that it is better then nothing. If not used properly, on-camera flash can produce wedding pictures that look "flashy." This means that it is obvious that lighting was used because the subject's face was washed out or has shine on them from the reflected flash. The other negative aspect of your photographer using a flash on top of their camera is that it tends to make the lighting "flat". Flat lighting is uncomplimentary with no dimension. It tends to make couple's faces look wider and thus makes the subjects appear heavier. Does anyone want to look heavier? Doubtful.

Natural Light

It sounds so nice right? Everyone loves natural light because these days we like everything natural. In a very large number of cases, I would agree with this preference. Natural light can be a very nice way to light a bride and groom and there are many places within San Francisco city hall that provide nice natural light, allowing the creation of spectacular photos. Unfortunately, there are also a number of places in City Hall where the natural light is not so complimentary. One of these places maybe the most popular location of all, The Grand Staircase! The Mayor's Balcony is also frequently bathed in bad natural light. What makes natural light not the best way to go? Well, there are a number of circumstances and there are simply too many to discuss here. Let's focus on the most dreadful type of natural light, overhead lighting. This quite often occurs on the Grand Staircase, especially down towards the bottom of the stairs. There are no side windows down this low so most of the light is coming from the top of the building, thus the overhead light! It causes raccoon eyes and chin shadows and is not complimentary in the least. You have heard high level professional photographers talk about not wanting to take outdoor pictures at noon. This is why!

Off-Camera Lighting

Off-camera lighting produces optimal San Francisco city hall wedding pictures without exception. I could go into a whole number of reasons, but can simplify it easily. Off-camera lighting gives the wedding photographer control of the lighting. That is all there is to it. They can aim the light any way they want for best results. There is a good reason that most professional photography studio setups have the main light coming in from approximately a 45 degree angle. It is because this angled lighting is the most complimentary. It slims faces and provides drama to the image. Most importantly, it creates dimension. This is the concept of a photo looking more 3-D. Depth in an image is what makes it look more natural and soft. Yes, it takes some practice to master this technique, but it is well worth it in my opinion. I feel that the top San Francisco wedding photographers frequently use off-camera lighting. So when choosing your wedding photographer for your city hall nuptials, ask them what type of lighting they use and why. The answers will be very illuminating and will help you make the right decision.

Top wedding photography locations

Camera Settings

Believe it or not, even with today's modern fully automated cameras, the leading SF city hall wedding photographers should know how to override the automation and adjust settings for the task at hand. Yes, modern DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras do an amazing job at guessing at what the prime settings will be for a given background, but in many ways the resulting images are compromises. A professional wedding photographer understands how to use the camera to change lighting ratios and darken or brighten backgrounds. All of these types of techniques come in very handy at such a tricky lighting place like city hall. One great example involves all of the beautiful large windows in the building. These huge ornate windows can be found throughout the interior of city hall and it is natural to want to use them as a background in some of the wedding pictures. Without proper utilization of advanced camera settings like F-stop and shutter speed, these photos can come out terrible. I see so many city hall wedding pictures in front of the 4th floor window where the subjects get lost in the blown out window details behind them. An experienced picture taker would know how to adjust the camera to prevent this. There are other examples, but you get the idea. Superior wedding photographers know how to do this and thus should probably receive your vote for inclusion as a candidate to work with you.

So how does one determine if their potential wedding photographer understands how to use and set the camera? I wouldn't ask the simple question: "Do you understand camera settings?" The obvious answer to this question will be yes. Instead, I would bring up a scenario similar to the one described above. Then simply ask them how they would set their camera to avoid this. The answer should include the use of Lighting and higher shutter speeds. This is how you adjust for severe back lighting.

Optimal Use of Camera Lenses

Another question to ask a perspective SF city hall wedding photographer is about the type of lenses they use at various places. In this particular case, there is no right or wrong answer to the question. However, the way they answer can be instructive. Experienced city hall wedding photographers understand that different lenses can yield various results depending upon where you are in the building. Wide angle lenses work great for capturing the architecture and Grand Staircase. Telephoto lenses are best for shooting across the building interior. Prime lenses are almost always preferred with their faster speed and larger lens openings. Again, I would just focus my questions to the photographer about why they use specific lenses and what types of results they obtain with each of them. If they seem to know that they are talking about, its a good sign. One question to ask is: "What do you like most about prime lenses?" The answer you want to hear is that they are faster and allow larger aperture settings. They are also generally sharper than zoom lenses, but this is not always true. I still feel that this would be one of the optimal answers to hear from the wedding photographer. Again, all you are really trying to accomplish here is to test their technical skills. They should be able to answer these types of questions intelligently and accurately. I really feel like this is similar to a job interview. The interviewer should ask the applicant open-ended questions to test the knowledge of the applicant. Never ask yes/no questions, because you already can guess what the answer will be and it tells you nothing about the wedding photographer.

City hall wedding picture taken with prime telephoto lens

The Best Posing Techniques

This can one of the main factors that separate the premier city hall wedding photographers from the average. City hall is such a beautiful building that it is pretty hard to choose bad background for your brides and grooms. The more important issue is what the picture taker does with the couple once in front of the chosen location. Positioning the couple for best effect is what portrait photography is all about. Experience with brides is especially important to understand how to best display her dress and her figure. The purpose of this page is not to go through posing techniques and ideas. We want you to make sure you check out the wedding photographer's best work and see if you like the poses portrayed. I would also encourage you to speak to the photographer about some favorite poses they have and see how they respond.

One question I am frequently asked is whether or not I even suggest poses. Apparently, some of these potential clients have worked with wedding photographers that just have the couple look at the camera every time and take the picture. Even worse, the picture taker asks the bride and groom to come up with their own pose each time. This is not acceptable and a definite sign that you are working with an inexperienced photographer. Towards the end of my San Francisco city hall shoot, I like to give the bride and groom the option of creating their own pose. This is after I have already been suggesting specific posing throughout the day. At this point, the couple knows that I am experienced and understand the best poses for city hall. The idea here is to have a little fun and let the couple get involved in the shoot (if they want to). From a practical standpoint, this also allows the couple some input into how their own photos will come out. As a professional San Francisco city hall wedding photographer with lots of experience, I still don't always know if I have completely satisfied the needs of my client. This technique gives the bride and groom one last chance to provide some suggestions. Sometimes our best wedding pictures come out of this process.

Best posing techniques for wedding photography

ISO Camera Settings

What exactly is ISO and why it is it important for city hall wedding photography? ISO is a setting on the camera that adjusts the sensitivity of the sensor to light. A higher ISO makes the camera more sensitive to light and a lower ISO makes it less sensitive. With today's modern cameras, ISO makes little difference in outdoor settings. As we know, San Francisco city hall is an indoor setting and so it totally matters here! An experienced professional should understand the differences and degradation that certain ISO settings have with regard to the final images. Obviously, one would think that the photographer should just increase the ISO settings on their cameras when shooting in the sometimes dark building. The only problem with this assumption is that there is price to be paid for ultra high ISO settings. With settings over a certain number, the photos can start to appear Noisy (or grainy). This varies from camera to camera and the technology for prime ISO performance has been rapidly increasing lately. For example, my new Nikon Mirrorless Z6ii can easily obtain fantastic images with little noise all the way up to ISO 3200. This would have been unheard of 3 years ago. My old Nikon which was a top of the line $7,000 camera, displayed significant noise at any ISO setting over 1,600. At this point, you might be wondering that all of this has to do with finding the best San Francisco city hall wedding photographers. Here again, it just gives you talking points to discuss with your potential pro photographer. Ask them open ended questions about ISO performance and see what they say. I guarantee you that if they know their stuff, they will ramble on for 30 minutes about this subject and brag about their own camera's amazing prowess when it comes to high ISO performance. I see nothing wrong with this response, because it tells you that they know what they are talking about and have experience with using different ISO settings for various indoor lighting situations.