San Francisco City Hall Wedding Photographer
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Floor By Floor Guide - City Hall

Wedding Photographers Guide for SF City Hall

San Francisco city hall is arguably one of the premiere wedding photography destinations in the Bay Area. It certainly is number 1 when it comes to smaller civil ceremonies. Many would rank it as one of best places for wedding pictures in California, period! At least if you are talking about indoor venues. We have been photographing weddings here for many years and have discovered some of the best places in the building to create amazing images no matter what time of the day it is. We decided to provide our clients with this useful guide that breaks down the best wedding photography opportunities on a floor-by-floor basis. This guide can be used whether or not you have chosen us to be your SF city hall wedding photographers. It can also be used for other types of portrait shoots at City Hall including Family Portraits and Quinceañeras.

  • 1st Floor - We thought it would be wise to start at the bottom floor. The first floor of city hall is of course the place where the famous Grand Staircase is located. Well, at least the bottom of it. As you enter the building and walk a few steps, it's the first major piece of architecture that greets you. The patterned marble floor is like nothing you have ever seen before and affords some creative photographic ;opportunities. We see so many photographers shooting up at the Staircase, but shooting down at it provides a great look at this impressive patterned floor. There are some great angles that really make for spectacular images if framed correctly. Please also keep in mind that the 1st floor is also the one with the most foot traffic, so it can be difficult at times to get a clear image with no people in the way. Many ask us how we manage to obtain great photos with no people. The answer is patience and camera angles. As we take you on your City Hall photo tour after your ceremony, we keep our eyes on the Grand Staircase and wait for a time when less people are present. As soon as it looks clear we rush our couples there hoping for that clear shot! Inevitably, it does not take long until other people come into to view and this is where using the proper camera angle helps. We will move around and get the best angle possible to avoid crowd shots.

    The other thing that can really help is having the proper camera equipment. Use of extreme wide angles lenses allows us to stand closer to the staircase and thus more people are eliminated from view. In addition to the Grand Staircase, the 1st floor has some columns that can be used in wedding pictures. These columns can be found on the back side towards Van Ness Avenue entrance. If you choose the right angles, you can get some interesting images that show nothing but vertical lines in the background with some impressive depth. Don't forget the North and South Galleries! They are pretty open, but can make for interesting and unique photos. Quite honestly, we do not shoot in these places too often, but it can make for a nice change of pace. We want every one of our brides and grooms to have something unique when they receive their final images from us. We know that our couples also want pictures that they saw on our website, so we need to balance what we provide them with some new and some of our traditional poses.

  • 2nd Floor - What can be said about the 2nd floor of SF City Hall? It has so much to offer in so many places. I have often said that if I was forced to choose one floor and one floor only, I would pick the 2nd. It is home to the Rotunda where most of the Civil Ceremonies are performed. The Rotunda itself offers incredible picture opportunities for any wedding photographer. Look across the way and you will see the Famous Mayor's Balcony with its distinctive, ornate gold railing and historical significance. We find that the Mayor's Balcony is the preeminent location to obtain expansive architectural images of the building. We place the bride and groom in front of the rail and shoot slightly up at them to make sure we feature the details at the top of the building. Seeing the dome from inside San Francisco city hall is impressive and we try to capture it for you the best we can.

    On each side of the 2nd floor are expansive hallways with beautiful repeating lines which are so ideal for optimum wedding photography. The 2nd floor also seems to be a good place to go when it is crowded at SF City Hall. It affords camera angles that eliminate other tourists and couples from view. Lastly, the 2nd floor is the perfect place to take photos of the bride and groom walking on the Staircase. Even posed shots work quite well from this location. We normally approach this from either side of the Grand Staircase and are looking down slightly. Some of it depends upon where we are able to place the couple. This can be affected by where other couples and tourists happen to be standing or posing. The Mayor's Balcony is definitely main feature of the 2nd floor and we always make sure to try to get some great wedding images here.

  • 3rd Floor - The 3rd floor has the least amount of photographic space, but still offers some amazing locations. On the North side of the building you will find 3 of the most beautiful windows that are so ideal for picture taking. When professional photographers build their own studio, they always want North facing windows. Taking a bride and groom to the 3rd floor for wedding pictures is almost like bringing them into a private portrait photography studio. The 3rd floor offers some of the best natural light in the building and it is completely controllable depending upon where you place the subject. It also happens to be one of the quietest floors in San Francisco city hall making it a nice escape from the crowds.

    We also use the 3rd floor for taking pictures of our brides and grooms in other locations throughout the building. For example, across the building to the other side as can be seen in this picture. The other thing that is nice about the 3rd floor is that it is a prime location to do a wedding ceremony. Many couples bring their own officiant and have a ceremony at city hall on their own. The 3rd floor offers the most privacy and the best opportunity to not have people in the background during the marriage ceremony. In addition to ceremonies, we also like to use the 3rd floor when our couples want a "First Look" photo. Again, the privacy and intimacy afforded here are quite impressive. Your best chance of privacy would normally be on the South side on the 3rd floor on either side of the hallway. More professional city hall wedding photographers prefer the North side as previously described, so this provide a bit more privacy.

  • 4th Floor - Did I save the best floor for last? Yes, probably though differing opinions among professional wedding photographers exist. To me, the 4th floor offers the optimum natural light with it's huge windows that provide light for the entire building. You also obtain a great vantage point up on the 4th floor allowing a person to take in all of the city hall architecture available. We bring out our wide angle lens for this floor because there is so much background to include in your photos.

    This is also the floor that offers an unsurpassed location for your San Francisco city hall nuptials. Book the North or South Galleries and the Event Office will set up chairs for your guests and ropes to keep the curious tourists out. For the inexpensive price of $1,000, all of this can be yours for a full hour. The 4th Floor is by far my favorite place for city hall wedding ceremonies! If you are given the choice between the North and South galleries for your ceremony, choose the North. The sun can interfere on the South during certain times of the day (and year). The winter months can be quite brutal with the sun pouring in on the south side. It can be cold outside, but the sun shining on you will make you quite hot in your wedding dress and Tux. Plus the lighting is much more even on the North side and this makes for better wedding photography.

  • Outside of City Hall - Yes, I know this is not technically a floor, but many photo opportunities present themselves out in front of San Francisco City Hall. Everyone knows about the City Hall Sign, but there also great views across the street and by the trees. Of course, this is also the best place to obtain a nice shot of the exterior of the building. It just requires a quick walk across the street to Civic Park. Something we will do for our couples if they ask. Let us know how many shots you want outside and we will schedule your shoot accordingly. Everyone gets the City Hall Sign picture so do not worry about that! For more information about San Francisco city hall wedding photography click the home page link to return back.

Patterned Marble on the 1st floor of SF City Hall Patterned Marble on 1st Floor looking down from the 2nd floor of SF City Hall

4th floor architecture at San Francisco city hall4th Floor North Gallery Wedding Image with dramatic natural light

3rd Floor North Window with Bride and Groom posing3rd Floor North Facing Window with the newlyweds in B&W - One of my favorite couples