Hello and welcome to our San Francisco City Hall Wedding Photography page. We area a local San Francisco team that specializes in City Hall weddings since 2011. City Hall is currently closed to the public. However we expect a reopening during summer 2021. The demand for limited available time slots will be enormous. Therefore we highly recommend subscribing to our City Hall reopening notification service (see form below). For example all Friday Mayor's Balcony and 4th floor space rental from July 1st till August 27th already fully booked. We also expect Rotunda ceremonies within 90 days window will be fully booked within days after the reopening.
Thank you for visiting our SF City Hall wedding photography page. We are a team of professional San Francisco based wedding photographers who specialize in complex weekend celebrations but have additional weekday availability to cover intimate San Francisco City Hall weddings.
In the article below, I will go over multiple aspects of finding, selecting and working with a wedding photographer. I will cover the pricing aspects of City Hall photography, differences in styles and approach, and much more.
When it comes to choosing a photographer for your City Hall wedding, one phrase is worth repeating thousand times: it’s a lifetime investment - not an expense. If you agree with this concept, finding a right wedding photographer will transform a mere shopping experience into investing into your future. After-all, this is a beginning of your life together as a husband and wife. These beautiful memories deserve to be captured and preserved for years to come.
If you've been looking for a photographer, it is likely that you are overwhelmed by a variety of portfolios. After all, San Francisco City Hall hosts thousands of weddings each year. This means that countless similar looking photos are posted online.
Pricing can be confusing too. Photography services can be as low as $100 or as high as $3000 for just few hours of photography; this vast difference in pricing can be overwhelming. However, if you approach your search carefully, you can find a creative and affordable photographer for your City Hall wedding.
There are plenty of talented wedding photographers in San Francisco. Most of them earn a living from large weekend weddings. While big weddings can provide a stable income, they are much more complex and require a big commitment on the part of the photographer. For example, email communications between photographers and clients can span 12-24 months from the initial booking to the delivery of the final album. Additionally, there are multiple meetings, site visits, and image editing and post-production will often take days.
San Francisco City Hall elopements are very different. Straight forward and practically stress-free for experienced and confident photographers. City Hall elopements allow photographers to feel like real artists rather than paparazzi running around with assistants and shot-lists in hand. As an additional bonus, photographers don't need to be away from their family for more than few hours, production times are much shorter and there is no need to have sales consultations. And photographing inside a temperature controlled City Hall is so much more pleasant than covering an outdoor ceremony in a 100 degree heat.
Naturally, photographers value the simplicity of City Hall weddings and offer lower prices for these events. And this brings me to the main point: a savvy bride (or groom) can find a top-notch photographer at a fraction of the cost as a price difference between a mid-range and high-end photographer shrinks from thousands of dollars towards hundreds, while the quality of the work remains the same.
If you have a reasonable budget and appreciation for creative photography, you should not have any trouble finding a photographer, whose work you will value. However, I don't recommend making pricing your main criteria. Remember you are hiring a photographer who will represent you and possibly your family and friends to future generations.
Photographers are artists, who like to show their best work. They demonstrate photographers that they personally love. Having viewed hundreds of photos of SF City Hall weddings, I observed that about 80% of them are posed one way or another. Only a small fraction of the photos show the actual wedding ceremony, the family love and interaction with family and friends. It seems to me that these candid moments are not prioritized or considered important. This trend is even more prominent on Instagram, where over 90% of the photos are staged.
When looking at someone else's wedding photo, ask yourself a question: "can this photo be replicated or re-staged later on a different (non-wedding) day"? If the answer is "Yes", than you probably looking at a posed portrait of the couple. And while posed portraits are important, a wedding is a unique event that offers opportunities to capture timeless moments. Shouldn't candid images be the highlight of a photography coverage?
As important as they are, formal photos can't convey feelings or mood or tell a story. So, make sure to find a photographer who knows how to find a right balance between staging photos and capturing moments.
Photographers often state that they specialize in San Francisco City Hall weddings. Let's try to understand what this means. First thing that comes to mind is that majority of photographer's work is based in City Hall, but this is rarely the case. A more realistic scenario is that photographer simply covered many City Hall weddings and feels comfortable stating that he or she specializes in City Hall weddings. In other words, the photographer is familiar with inside locations, lighting, County Clerk's office schedule, rules and regulations.
If you ask a photographer this question, he or she should tell that they never stop learning, rather than tell you the number of weddings. A modern photographer doesn't need ten years of experience to photograph a wedding at City Hall. Someone who is enthusiastic and motivated can learn a lot in two three short years. However, a passionate, talented and hard-working photographer tries to improve continuously. His skills are sharpened with each wedding, as he never stops experimenting; he is able to notice tiny details within seconds, he can multi-task, give instructions and capture fleeting moments at the same time. Most importantly, he or she can see a unique aspect in each wedding, adjust the style and approach accordingly, make people look their best and create a beautiful visual story.
How often do you make long term investments? How often do you buy something that will stay in your family for generations? Probably, not too often. Of course, investments in Real Estate or higher education are critical, but wedding photos will also stay with you for years. They will be passed on to your descendants. Isn't it worth spending money on? After all, your grandchildren will one day cherish these memories.
If you ask a photographer this question, the answers will vary. Some photographers will recommend a longer coverage arguing that wedding day should be thoroughly covered from the bridal preparations all the way to the end of the dinner; others will offer just 30 minutes of coverage and explain that most people don't need coverage that goes beyond few photos. So to understand how much time needed, you have to know what YOU want to be captured and what your photographer is capable of. Can this photographer translate the style and quality of his work into YOUR wedding? Can the photographer, who takes amazing photos in front of a grand building, work in a small and poorly lit hotel room where you will be getting ready? How much time does your photographer need for formal photos? Can he guide a group that doesn't follow instructions very well?
Let's assume that there are two photographers who both charge $1000 for a City Hall package. One offers two hours and the other offers three hours within the same package. Let's also assume that results of their work are equal. One photographer worked for a newspaper, or in a field of sports photography, and learned to operate fast; he can get great portraits in just minutes. The other photographer has a background in personal portraits and loves to double check his framing, takes time to adjust exposure to perfection, works with light meter and takes three times as many group photos. Which one is a better choice? There is no easy answer to that. Package duration is also a very subjective matter.It is important to remember that everyone's speed and style are different.
A lot of couples book wedding photographers based on online reviews. After all if so many couples were happy with the results, what are the chances you won't be? It is unlikely that a 5 star rated photographer will disappoint you. This photographer worked hard to earn his reputation and will do whatever necessary to make you happy. Obviously the 5 star reviews are hard earned. However, it is important to remember that people have dramatically different expectations. One client will be happy with sharp and focused wedding photos or promptly answered emails, while another client would only provide a 5-star review if the photographer created an exceptional experience for the couple that the entire family appreciated. My recommendation is to go find out more about the studio and make a decision on several factors rather than on a review alone.
In the world of social media, a lot of couples would prefer to have a personal connection with a photographer before hiring him or her. They follow a favorite photographer on Instagram or Facebook, read photographer's posts and comments. And I think this is great: if you love a photographer's work, go ahead and get to know him or her virtually. When you finally meet in person, you will already feel the connection. But do not forget that there are excellent photographers out there, who are just not into social media. You may have a wonderful experience with a photographer who has never heard of Instagram.
Photographers are artists, who have to constantly demonstrate new work. If they are unable to do so, it may ultimately affect their business and lower website traffic, which will result in a decreased income. It is reasonable to expect that photographers will upload photos of their clients to their website. Of course, more established photographers with solid portfolios don't need to update their websites on a weekly basis. Others may need each wedding to be posted. However, all professional photographers understand that certain clients can't have their wedding photos online. For instance, be high school or special education teachers, law enforcement agents, certain career officers and public figures need their wedding photos to remain private. All experienced photographers will honor your request to keep your photos private, but some will charge a small fee. If you would like your photos to stay offline, you and your photographer should have a discussion in advance.
To establish value and compare vendors, couples often ask: "How many photos do we get?". This is a reasonable question because a couple should know what to expect. Otherwise, they may be a little surprised if they got 50 photos after 8 hours of photography.
Here is my take: If I had to choose between two photographers, one of whom provides only 50 photos, I would choose the one whose work inspires me more. The quantity would not concern me.
The number of photos does not represent quality. There are photographers that strive to take as many photos as possible and taking a 10000 photos on a wedding day is not uncommon. Others are very conservative and only press the shutter button when they see a click-worthy moment. Which way is the best? In my opinion, what matters most, is the photographer's ability to get the shots right throughout the entire coverage time. It doesn't really matter if a photographer takes 2 or 20 images of that same moment as long as it is properly captured.
A motivated wedding photographer will always hold the camera on the eye level no matter how tiring it is. Photographers, whose cameras are mostly hanging on the shoulder or strapped to the waist, usually prefer to take photos at specific moments and are not always ready for a split second situation. This is not wrong, it is just an approach. A photographer who specializes in creative poses does not need to be on a lookout for a candid moment. He or she wasn't hired for that.
There are photographers that shoot in burst mode. Depending on their cameras, they are capable of taking five, ten and even more photos in a single second. This may result in hundreds of photos per hour. However, 95% of these photos will be exact duplicates.
To summarize, what matters the most is not how many photos photographer will deliver, but the photographer's ability to create a variety of photos within a short period of time, being ready for the moment when it comes, providing guidance and posing couples/families in a way that appears effortless to the couple.
Very often photographers who work at City Hall embrace natural light style. This makes perfect sense, since architects who designed City Hall purposely created gigantic windows on the 4th floor. Sunlight enters freely through these windows and wonders around the building. It would be unwise for photographers to not take advantage of this. Even on cloudy day, the building is well lit; It may appear a little dim on dreary winter days, but most images taken on the Grand Staircase, 4th floor, and even the Rotunda, are taken without help of a flash. But the "Natural Light Award" goes to a Front Door!
Even older digital cameras are perfectly suitable for working inside the City Hall without any lighting assistance. Modern cameras, in conjunction with fast prime lenses, are perfect for getting spectacular images with sharp main object and nicely blurred backgrounds. However, photographers who solely rely on this setup, may prioritize very specific images. Natural light photographers will strive to create flattering texture patterns behind the couple, leaving the background slightly out of focus achieving a "Bokeh" effect so many love. This being said, many of these same lenses have slower focusing speeds and precision and other limitations that may be crucial when it comes to capturing decisive moments. A zoom lens, which may not be able to produce the same background effects, can be much more useful when photographer must capture a rapidly unfolding situation and needs to switch subjects, distance and angles fast.
While majority of photographers prefer natural light approach, there are some who are big fans of artificial lighting setups. They bring softboxes, umbrellas, remote triggers, tripods and light stands to City Hall. There are the pros and cons to this approach.
A professional, who relies on artificial lighting, often produces images that are sharper, clearer, and define subject better than most, not all, natural light photos. Photographers usually point a light source onto the couple from a certain angle or use a wall to bounce it. They also use natural light of the City Hall in the background. Sometimes a second or even a third light source will be pointed towards the couple from a different angle or towards a certain background element to enhance it. Other photographers, who prefer to lit the scene, may use spotlights instead of soft boxes. These photographers usually shoot wider angle photos with a stronger emphasis on architecture.
When used correctly, artificial lighting creates studio quality group shots which would be impossible to achieve without the use of strobes. The images will have a very consistent look from one wedding to another no matter how dark or bright the City Hall is on that particular day. You are very likely to be able to zoom into the photo and see the pores of your skin. Not everyone will like it, but pixel-pickers certainly will.
A natural light photographer, on other hand will be limited to well-lit spots, which are not always available, may have to increase ISO settings which, as a result, which increases a noise in the photos, shoot at lower shutter speed. Consequently, the photos may be less sharp.
Now as you probably guessed it, the images taken with the help of artificial lighting, are by far more time-consuming that natural light photos. Are they worth that extra time?
From aesthetic point of view, it is really your preference. There is no right and wrong way to photograph at City Hall, but a photographer with a lighting setup will require more of your time on a wedding day. Additionally, unlike someone with a lighter load, a photographer, who needs to carry his gear around, may not be able to focus on candid moments.
To conclude, when choosing a photographer, you need to understand what is happening behind the scenes, what are the advantages and disadvantages of certain styles and approaches.
A lot of photographers offer dedicated City Hall Photography packages. I would, however, remind the reader that shopping simply by budget may dramatically limit the chances of finding an exceptional artist. Even those who are on a tighter budget, should not be limiting themselves to contacting only those with lower prices. This approach may create a "tunnel vision", which means you won't be able to find the best photographers and learn full scope of offerings. It is not uncommon for the best photographers to offer special and highly discounted packages. And that's the main reason why I don't recommend shopping by price only. If you devote time to research, you may be pleasantly surprised.
San Francisco City Hall is very beautiful piece of new-classic architecture. Tens of thousands of weddings that happened inside this building throughout it's history is a clear proof of that. An experienced photographer doesn't need a specific place to take great photos but some locations are more popular than others. The Grand Staircase and the 4th Floor North are in high demand as they feature amazing backdrops and portraits taken there are often print-worthy. These locations at times can be very crowded so the couples who must have Grand Staircase or 4th floor photos, may want to consider less crowded days and times. Popular dates such as 10-20-20 or 01-12-21 are much likely to cause crowds (assuming COVID-19 is past us by that time). Couples may also want to consider starting their sessions at 8AM when building is open and all areas are available.
I hope this page will be helpful to those in search of a wedding photographer. I hope couples will benefit from my advice and choose a photographer who create a lifetime of memories for them. Please feel free to contact us with any questions related to San Francisco City Hall weddings.
The slideshow below has an exact time of each photo taken. This may help plan a wedding to those who love beautiful photography.
3365 Sacramento St #435, San Francisco, CA 94118