If you're thinking of getting married at San Francisco City Hall (once it reopens!) - congratulations! It really is a stunning, practical and affordable choice. Allow me to be your trusted guide of San Francisco City Hall - who will help you plan more than just the photography.
My specialty is San Francisco City Hall wedding photography that is thoughtful, natural and FUN! I'll make you look as amazing as you feel on your wedding day - without the awkward posing!
I'm motivated by a deep desire to create imagery that is authentic to each couple. I get to know my couples prior to the big day, so I can craft photos that are intimate and authentic. Read more about my candid approach here.
My clients rave about my expert knowledge of the process of getting married at San Francisco City Hall. I even wrote the guide on it!
But don’t just take my word for it. I have 40+ 5-star reviews on Yelp from happy clients! They thought it was pretty cool working with me as their wedding photographer, helper and guide.
My commitment to helping City Hall couples is borne out in my exhaustive blog library - with an exer-expanding section dedicated solely to SF City Hall weddings!
I am usually asked by someone at every wedding ‘how do you know the couple?’ assuming I must be a friend. That to me is the highest praise.
So, let’s begin your legacy today! It all begins with my homemade mochi muffins at my studio in the Mission District (once things are back to normal).
Or I’d love to Skype with you and see your cute faces! I can't wait to hear more about what you have in mind.
This brief intro video gives a flavor of what it's like working with me for your City Hall wedding!
Video by Wedding Video Films (available for SF City Hall wedding videography!)
05. WHAT WILL WE RECEIVE AS PART OF OUR CITY HALL PHOTO PACKAGE?
All clients receive a curated, carefully hand-edited selection of images. They are delivered in a shareable, downloadable online gallery from which you can also purchase prints. More about what's included below. Beyond than the finished wedding pictures, I offer a high level of customized service from the moment you inquire with me.
06. WHAT SETS YOU APART FROM OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS?
Reliability, extensive knowledge of City Hall weddings, planning help, professionalism, personalized service, vendor referrals, an unobtrusive, helpful presence on the day, homemade mochi muffins at my place… seriously! I take the time to get to know you as a couple and will prepare an editable wedding timeline just for you. For a quick n' dirty sample timeline, check out this article.
07. DO YOU USE FLASH AT SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL?
I love utilizing ambient light in my photographs, so try to preserve this as much as possible. I use top of the line cameras and lenses which work even in the lower lighting conditions inside City Hall. I like to keep things natural and true-to-life. The only exception is that I sometimes use flash for larger group portraits depending where we’re positioned and the lighting conditions on the day.
08. HOW WILL YOU MAKE US FEEL COMFORTABLE?
Building a relationship before the wedding is crucial to helping you feel comfortable and relaxed – like we’re old friends. I make the wedding shoot fun and like to keep things moving. Read about 5 things I do to help you relax, feel good and forget about the camera!
01. HOW FAR OUT SHOULD WE BOOK WITH YOU?
You can book your City Hall ceremony a maximum of 90 days out with City Hall itself. (The exception to this is private area reservations which can be booked further out.) When it comes to booking a photographer, it’s good to start looking as you have your ceremony confirmed. You can always contact me even if your ceremony is only a few days away!
02. HOW MANY HOURS' COVERAGE WILL WE NEED?
My City Hall wedding photography coverage begins at 2 hours which is enough for 15 mins pre-ceremony, the waiting period before the ceremony (which lasts up to 30 mins on average), the ceremony itself (duh!), posed family portraits and photos of the two of you in City Hall and leaving the building. I recommend 3 hours so there’s time for a beautiful outdoor location, too.
03. WHAT ARE SOME GOOD PORTRAIT LOCATIONS?
There are so many! Here are some favorite SF photo locations. Many of the most iconic ones (Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, the beaches) take a a while to drive to, so I also have ideas for places that are within 3 miles of City Hall - so you can enjoy the rest of your wedding day!
04. WILL YOU PHOTOGRAPH OUR LARGER WEDDING RECEPTION AT A LATER DATE?
Yes! Please let me know when you reach out about your City Hall wedding, if you have a larger reception the same day or another day. Planning a meal after your City Hall wedding? Check out my guide to restaurants here!
"As fairly introverted people who shy away from cameras, I knew there may be hope for us! Zoe proved to be spectacular at what she does. She made us feel at ease with the camera and after not too long, we stopped noticing its presence as much and just acted like ourselves. We took pictures all over inside and outside the building with her guiding the way, always checking in and asking us for input."
— Heather & Jason
"All of the couples she has photographed looked so natural and in love."
"We prioritized photographers who worked with ALL kinds of couples, couples who look like us. Her portfolio revealed itself to be both classic yet modern, artsy and professional. Zoe was our first choice and she did not disappoint. She makes you feel welcome and valued throughout the whole process. She was very easy and warm to work with."
— Jake and Omar
"So happy we found Zoe to capture our special day."
"Zoe took such care to capture the small moments that really made the day memorable. And looking back at the images takes me right back to the moment. She was there for everything yet somehow she "hides" in the background.
Her no nonsense and efficient demeanor were total bonuses!!"
— Jessica & John
"Zoe had a plan and executed it perfectly."
"Zoe was professional but approachable, making the entire experience smooth and easy. She was responsive, knowledgeable, and helpful throughout the process, detailing and explaining everything along the way. We had a clear understanding of what to expect from our first communication with her in email."
— Jen & Jeff
"Zoe hustled to capture as many photos as possible in different locations."
"There are truly not enough words to express our gratitude to Zoe for taking our photos [...] She is SUCH a calm soul. We had our entire family with us (who can be very demanding, restless and opinionated) plus our malti-poo, but she directed all of us with such grace and ease. "
— Stephanie & Minh
"We found an artist who would be able to capture the essence of who we are"
13. WHAT'S INVOLVED WITH PICKING UP OUR MARRIAGE LICENSE?
Picking up the marriage license is very simple. You can pick one up from any city or county in California. Each county sets its own price. You will need to make an appointment online to obtain the marriage license. The license must have been issued 90 days or less before the wedding date. It can be picked up on the wedding day but I would not recommend this.
The official guidelines state that license appointments should take place a minimum of 1 hour before the ceremony time, but I'd allow 2 hours at the very least.
14. WHAT DO WE NEED TO BRING WITH US FOR OUR SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL WEDDING?
You need to bring your marriage license (unless of course, you are picking it up on your wedding day) and your government-issued ID. Make sure your entire name including any middle names, are spelled out in full. Some states, such as NJ, often mark the middle name with the initial. If that's the case, bring a passport or birth certificate too. If the language is not English, you will need to bring a certified translation. You may also choose to exchange wedding rings but they are not necessary.
15. WHAT SHOULD WE NOT BRING?
I would avoid bringing too much stuff in general. As it’s a public place, you will have to keep anything you bring in your hand at all times, or hand it off to a family member. It can be a little stressful to keep an eye on your belongings constantly. Also, your photographer may well end up carting around your personal effects (to avoid them being in the pictures)! Looking for more day-of tips? Check out this article.
16. WHAT SHOULD WE WEAR FOR OUR SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL WEDDING?
There are so many ways you can go! I personally favor something elegant but modern - jumpsuits, vests, fascinators, bustiers, bow ties, smoking jackets, tweed, fur, velvet, lace. A classic wedding dress or suit does look lovely and timeless, but there is no need to be constrained by tradition.
The only fashion style to avoid is anything too casual. A dressed-up, statement look that represents you as a couple is the way to go.
17. WE'RE WORRIED ABOUT DELAYS AT CITY HALL, WHAT CAN WE DO?
Delays are commonplace at San Francisco City Hall, but your photographer can build enough buffer time into proceedings. To prepare for delays, you can make a firm plan with your photographer, and ask about the fees for overtime coverage. 2 hours is sufficient - I would be very wary of anything less than this to adequately cover the basic events.
If you’re going for a meal straight afterward, you can have someone call the venue ahead to give your ETA. Ultimately though if you are concerned about delays a private area rental may worth considering, as you will have more control over proceedings.
18. WHERE DO WE GO FOR COUPLES PORTRAITS AFTER OUR CEREMONY?
Anywhere in San Francisco! I strongly recommend getting some photos done in an outdoor location somewhere in the city. I have a couple of articles that might be helpful. Firstly, my guide to wedding and engagement locations all around San Francisco.
Secondly, I have a guide to some cool photo spots that are less than 3 miles from San Francisco City Hall. If you wanted to keep to 2.5 hours of coverage, some of these places may be suitable.
19. SHOULD WE HAVE A WEDDING RECEPTION THE SAME DAY AS OUR SF CITY HALL WEDDING CEREMONY?
This will probably depend on what makes sense for your specific group and family. Are folks flying in especially, or would it be easy enough to get everyone together again? How formal of a reception event you are looking to host? Do you want your reception to be a full day celebration in itself? Where will it be?
For more casual events (a relaxed brunch, a chill restaurant, a bar), I personally think on the same day is best. Then your photographer can tag along to cover the first 20 minutes or so before the food comes.
For a more formal or larger event, it can make more sense to do it on a separate day. For my complete guide to the hippest San Francisco restaurants to host a reception after City Hall, check out my article here.
20. WHAT'S THE BEST WAY OF GETTING TO CITY HALL AND TRAVELING AROUND?
I have a separate article on this topic here. There are a few things to bear in mind as it’s a super busy area, and is served by many different public transit options. There are transportation ideas for every budget, style and guest count.
21. WHAT WILL THE PICTURES BE LIKE IF CITY HALL IS SUPER BUSY?
A skilled photographer will be able to guide you to places that obscure the fact that the building is busy. Many will also Photoshop distracting elements. But there is a limit to what smart positioning and post-production can do. Sometimes, especially during the ceremony in which we cannot direct people, others may be visible.
22. WHAT'S THE BEST TIME FOR PICTURES AT SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL?
The best time of day I would say is as early as possible. The building has stunning light early in the day and it’s largely free of people. 8am is when the doors open, so that’s my number 1 recommendation as to when to start the photography. After this time, the chances of getting a clear Grand Staircase shot diminish.
The other opportunity is when the ceremonies are winding down for the day, the latest being at 3.30pm. The quality of light can be darker depending on weather and time of year, and the photos may have more yellow/ orange tone. But it's still just as enchanting.
23. HOW DO WE KNOW HOW MUCH PHOTOGRAPHY COVERAGE TO BOOK?
This is something you can discuss with your photographer who will help you draw up a detailed timeline. You explain what you’d like covered, and the photographer’s job is to give you a realistic idea of time. Some couples want to pack as much as possible in, to get the best possible value. Others would rather prioritize an unhurried experience. Read more about creating your San Francisco City Hall wedding timeline here!
24. HOW DO WE FIND AND BOOK A SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL PHOTOGRAPHER?
Finding a photographer can be quite tricky. There are many photographers around, but few that specialize in City Hall weddings. Even fewer that make images that are authentic not awkward, modern yet timeless, fresh and full of life. Google and Pinterest are good places to start. There’s plenty of snooping to be done, including Yelp reviews, social media, and websites.
You will not need a professional wedding planner unless you have a private area rental. Expect an experienced San Francisco City Hall photographer to guide you through the experience.
Read more about how to choose your wedding photographer, and some ideas for questions to ask them during a consultation.
All the City Hall blog posts together in one place! View sample images from entire weddings, planning tips & tricks for a smooth and effortless San Francisco City Hall wedding day!
01. IS A SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL WEDDING FOR ME?
A City Hall wedding is one in which efficiency is prioritized over personalization. It’s known for being a quick and easy route. There are a lot fewer moving parts than a regular wedding. City Hall weddings are also much cheaper.
The kinds of people who are drawn to City Hall weddings tend to be those with a more practical bent, and who do not like the idea of being the center of attention, like you would at a big wedding. The planning process is typically much simpler and can take as little as a couple of weeks for a civil ceremony.
02. HOW MUCH DOES A SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL WEDDING COST?
A civil ceremony costs $200 at the current time, 2020. It’s $110 for the license (it can be less, as each county sets their own price) plus $90 for the ceremony. This includes the officiant. You may choose to add on extras: traditional wedding attire, a photographer/ videographer, florals, HMUA, transportation and a reception or meal.
03. WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT OPTIONS FOR SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL WEDDINGS?
The two main options are civil ceremonies and private area rentals. In the first category, the civil ceremonies take place in either the rotunda or the private ceremony room.
The private area rentals take place in either of the two 4th floor galleries or the Mayor’s Balcony. Within the private rentals category, there is also the option for a full City Hall buyout during the weekend or evening. There are different guest counts and rental costs associated with each. I’ve outlined the options in full on this post.
04. IS IT WORTH RENTING A PRIVATE AREA, AND IF SO, WHICH?
It is worth it if you have more than 10-15 guests, would like to exchange personal vows, have your own officiant, or would like a little more privacy or sense of occasion.
You also get to control when the ceremony starts and your vows. Though the price tag is higher than a civil ceremony, a private rental is actually much cheaper than other wedding venues located so conveniently.
As to which area, if you are choosing between the North and South 4th Floor galleries, go for the North Gallery - better light! The Mayor’s Balcony is also beautiful with more of a central location overlooking the staircase.
05. WHAT IS THE ACTUAL WEDDING CEREMONY LIKE AT SF CITY HALL AND HOW LONG IS IT?
The ceremony lasts about 4 minutes. It can be even shorter if you choose not to exchange rings. The vows that you will be exchanging are available in full here.
No personalization is permitted unless you are having a private ceremony. It’s very short! The key is to savor it and ignore everything going on around you.
06. WHAT CAN WE ACTUALLY EXPECT TO HAPPEN ON OUR SF CITY HALL WEDDING DAY?
On the day, you’ll need to arrive at no more than 15 minutes before your booked ceremony time. Try to be the first to check-in for your timeslot, so you can marry sooner! After checking in first with the information desk, you’ll wait in the corridor for your number to be called out. This time you’ll go and meet your officiant.
Want to know what happens next? Check out this in-depth article about the typical timeline for a San Francisco City Hall wedding day.
07. CAN YOU CHOOSE WHERE TO GET MARRIED AT SF CITY HALL?
There is a choice between the iconic rotunda and the private room when opting for a civil ceremony. There is of course the private area rental, which has three different areas to choose from (though two of them are essentially the same, just mirror images of each other). A lot of people don’t know about this other option.
It’s a little bit guerilla-style which isn’t for everyone but you can read more about it here.
08. IS AN OFFICIANT PROVIDED FOR SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL WEDDING?
Yes, a city-appointed Deputy Marriage Commissioner is provided for all civil ceremonies as standard. They are not provided as standard for private area rentals. There is no option as to whom you’ll be allocated on the day. These folks are all volunteers, typically retired City judges.
Some even take a little time to chat and even offer words of encouragement! If you are concerned about officiants, it’s recommended to opt for a private ceremony and have your pick of officiants. You could even get a friend or family deputized for the job!
09. SHOULD WE GET FAMILY FORMALS AT OUR CITY HALL WEDDING?
This is an essential part of your wedding gallery - recommended for all couples. Family formals are an integral part of the gallery. These formal photos need to be planned out in advance. It takes longer than most couples realize, so planning is key.
I recommend keeping lists short, and getting only the photos you really want. Here's my comprehensive guide on how to compile your family photo list.
10. WHY IS THE GUEST COUNT SO LIMITED?
The guest count is only 6 people for civil ceremonies. It’s been strictly enforced since May 2019, as folks were getting too rowdy. City Hall has become much more popular in recent years. It's probably a way of retaining some peace and ensuring everyone has enough space to get around.
Photographers, videographers and kids count towards your guest count. However, though the official rules state that only 6 guests are permitted there are ways around this! For one thing, there is the private room option which unofficially accommodates groups of up to around 15 people.
11. WHAT DO THE GUESTS DO DURING THE COUPLES' SHOOT?
I suggest we say a temporary byeeee to all guests during the couples’ photoshoot. I recommend the couple completely focusing on each other free of distractions, however well-meaning!
We will be packing in lots of different locations and I’m hustling hard to move us swiftly through, keeping that good energy going.
I recommend having a firm plan that guests are informed of in advance. That way they can head on to the next location - or if it's too early, send them to a nearby bar or cafe, or let them enjoy San Francisco by themselves or in a group.
12. CAN WE HAVE A WEDDING PARTY AT OUR SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL WEDDING?
You can have bridesmaids/ groomsmen at your wedding if you have a private area rental! 100 guests are permitted (though some may be standing depending on the specific space). Due to the low guest count, it may be a small challenge to have a wedding party, but a fun one to figure out ;)
At the heart of my work is a connection to the couple I'm photographing. I learn about your shared values, personality quirks and unique interaction style.
I've navigated dozens of couples through the process and have learned a lot about the intricacies of working with City Hall.
It'll be me shooting your wedding on the day, not some associate you've never met!
I've built a network of local vendors whom I know by reputation (online stalking) or by working with them in the past.
I don't receive kickbacks for making referrals.
I'll provide you with an editable custom timeline that outlines photography coverage ideas.
This way you know you're booking the right amount of time.
Time may be short but you still want gorgeous photos with natural light. I can give you ideas for amazing photo spots that are less than 3 miles from City Hall plus other more iconic locations around San Francisco.
It's my passion to serve and provide value. One way I do this is through my City Hall blog library which has info on every aspect of getting married at San Francisco City Hall, as well as example images from previous clients.
I live so close to San Francisco City Hall, that I could walk there. I make sure I always arrive early (usually well before you do!) for your peace of mind.
You get all the keepers that are carefully selected, curated and edited by me to ensure a refined, cohesive flow to your final gallery. The number is never arbitrarily capped.
How to get married at San Francisco City Hall - The 2020 Guide
12 hippest San Francisco restaurants for after City Hall wedding
How to have a private ceremony at SF City Hall without renting a space
10 San Francisco portrait locations less than 3 miles from City Hall
How to create a timeline for your San Francisco City Hall civil ceremony
Standard wedding vows for your City Hall ceremony
Services start at $1,150 + tax for up to 2 hours of continuous coverage.
It's recommended to add time for a beautiful portrait location or coverage of other wedding day festivities!
Includes edited high-resolution files.
Prices valid for Monday - Friday weddings, excluding federal holidays.
For weekend weddings, weekend pricing applies.
Jen & Jeff
From San Francisco, CA
Megs & Chad
From Calgary, Canada
Jake & Omar
From Phoenix, AZ