Congratulations on your upcoming San Francisco City Hall wedding!
I offer San Francisco City Hall wedding photos that are thoughtfully composed, excellently lit and make you feel like yourselves. I'll make you look as amazing as you feel on your wedding day - without the awkward posing!
I pride myself on getting to know my City Hall couples’ stories intimately. I'm motivated by a deep desire to create imagery that feels authentic to each couple.
A civil ceremony is as unique as any other kind of wedding. I take the time to listen and get to know you so I can craft photos that are intimate and true. Read more about my candid approach here.
My past clients appreciated my expert knowledge of both the building itself and the process of getting married at San Francisco City Hall.
But don’t take my word for it! I have amassed almost 40 5-star reviews on Yelp from clients astounded by the quality and range of imagery.
Not only that, I get a lot of comments about the planning assistance that I provide all my clients with personally. I’m your trusted guide that you can bounce ideas around with.
I have a TON of helpful resources on my ever-growing blog library with a large section dedicated solely to SF City Hall weddings.
I pride myself on helping to plan your San Francisco City Hall wedding, arranging your photography timeline and offering my input on anything with which you need assistance.
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. If you can’t make it, I’d love to Skype with you and see your cute faces!
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 but 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, custom wedding timeline just for you.
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 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, posed family portraits and portraits of you and your partner inside City Hall and leaving the building. I recommend 2.5 or 3 hours so there’s enough time for a beautiful location with natural (outdoor!) light.
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. I travel all over CA and the world for weddings.
"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 pretty 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 in order to obtain the marriage license. They don’t service walk-ins looking to obtain a 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.
In your wedding day finery, it will certainly be hot and stressful sitting in the corridor waiting for the paperwork to go through, with the added stress of your guests there. Appointments often run late.
The official guidelines state that license appointments should take place a minimum of 1 hour before the ceremony time, but that sounds like a recipe for disaster to me! I would say 2 hours at the very least, but if you can pop in on a different day that’d be much better.
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. With your identification, just make sure your entire name including any middle names, are spelled out in full. Some states, such as NJ, sometimes mark the middle name with just the initial. This won’t be acceptable in CA, so you may also want to bring a passport or birth certificate. If the language is not English, you will need to bring a certified translation so it can be read in English script. You may also choose to exchange wedding rings but they are not necessary for the marriage to be official, by any means!
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 with you in your hand at all times, unless you can hand it off to a family member. It can be a little stressful to have 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), so please spare a thought for our poor backs! 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 traditional wedding dress or suit does look lovely (and timeless of course) but don’t by any means feel constrained by old ideas about what’s expected.
The only fashion style I would avoid is anything too casual. It’s a grand building with formal architecture. A statement look that represents you as a couple, whether it’s big & bold, or simple & low-key, 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 a good photographer can build enough buffer time into proceedings. The last thing you will want to be is rushed or stressed because the ceremony is late starting, your mom wanders off when it’s time for formal photos, and a huge busload of tourists has just arrived. To prepare for delays, you can make a firm plan with your photographer as to what happens if the coverage goes into overtime.
If you’re going for a meal straight afterward, you can also make it clear that the party may be a little late, and have someone call ahead to give your ETA. Ultimately though if you are concerned about delays a private area rental may be best for you, as you will have 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 around 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. This is helpful because what can put couples off is that ‘all the good spots’ are a 20+ minute drive from the building. If you want somewhere close by, 2.5 - 3 hours of coverage may be completely doable!
19. SHOULD WE HAVE A WEDDING RECEPTION THE SAME DAY AS OUR SF CITY HALL WEDDING CEREMONY?
This will probably depend a lot on what makes sense for your specific group and family. How formal of a reception event you are looking to host, will also factor in. For more casual events (a relaxed brunch, a chill restaurant, a bar), I personally think it’s nice to have it on the same day. Then your photographer can tag along to cover just the first 20 minutes or so of the event before the food comes. If it’s a more formal event, a longer event than a simple meal, or you are inviting a lot more folks than were at the ceremony, it makes more sense to do it on a separate day. That is likely to cost you more - more hair & makeup, a second booking with your photographer, you may want to wear different outfits…
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 in my article.
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, either included or on request. But there is a limit to what smart positioning and picture editing can do. Sometimes, especially during the ceremony in which we cannot move and pose people, others may be visible. If you are concerned about other people getting in the shots, read on!
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.
Until, that is, later in the day when the ceremonies are winding down for the day (3.30pm is the last ceremony slot). However, the quality of light is much darker and the photos may have a grainier and more yellow/ orange tone. There's less daylight and more artificial light.
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 how long it takes, or what we can fit into the time you’d like to devote to photos. Some couples want to pack as much as possible in to the time to get the best possible value. Others really don’t want to rush at all, and would rather prioritize a chilled, unhurried experience. Getting to know you helps us create a timeline that works well for your specific preferences.
24. HOW DO WE FIND AND BOOK A SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL PHOTOGRAPHER?
Finding a photographer can be honestly 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, but don’t stop there!
There’s plenty of snooping to be done, including Yelp reviews, social media, websites. Your photographer doesn’t need to have experience with City Hall specifically, but it can help to know what to expect if they’re not going through it for the first time with you.
As you probably will not need a wedding planner, it helps to have a photographer who can guide you through the experience, giving your helpful and realistic advice throughout. 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 everything such as when the ceremony starts and what’s said in the ceremony! Though the price tag is significantly higher than a civil ceremony, a private rental is actually much cheaper than any wedding venue located so conveniently. Hardly any decoration is necessary (or permitted, for that matter) as the building’s architecture is stunning by itself.
As to which area, if you are choosing between the North and South 4th Floor galleries, go for the North Gallery as is has more even light, so the pictures will be better!
The Mayor’s Balcony is also beautiful with more of a central location overlooking the staircase and rotunda.
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.
You can expect to be saying ‘I do’ about 25 minutes after your booked ceremony time. After the short ceremony I would recommend taking formal portraits of your family in an available area of the building. Then it’ll be a good time for photos of you newlyweds.
The exception to this plan when it’s an early ceremony (before 10am), in which case I would want to rearrange a few things. Just ask me!
After the iconic ‘leaving City Hall’ photo, we’re free to head anywhere in San Francisco for pictures of you in natural light with beautiful surroundings of your choice.
07. WHAT DO THE GUESTS DO DURING THE COUPLES' SHOOT?
I suggest having all guests steer clear of the couples’ photoshoot. It’s a short time when I recommend being completely focused 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 you inform everyone of beforehand so that they know where to head to and what time you’ll be joining them. They can head on to the lunch location, send them to a nearby bar or cafe, or let them enjoy San Francisco if you are meeting up again later for dinner.
08. 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.
09. 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 take a little time to chat and even offer words of encouragement, others are terse. 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!
10. SHOULD WE GET FAMILY FORMALS AT OUR CITY HALL WEDDING?
This is an essential part of your wedding gallery, and it’s recommended for all couples. You won’t see this kind of work in wedding photographers’ portfolios, they are an integral and important part of the gallery. The more formal shots just need to be planned out in advance so we can be sure we’ve enough time as it takes longer than most marriers realize.
I always recommend keeping lists short, and getting only the photos you really want. Go here for practical information on how to compile your family photo list.
11. 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. My guess is it’s due to space limitations. City Hall has become much more popular, but the corridor hasn’t gotten any wider. At times the building is heaving with people. On Fridays it can be pretty loud. It's probably a way of retaining some peace and quiet despite the rising popularity.
Photographers, videographers and any 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.
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, I’m not sure how this would work for the short and limited civil ceremonies.
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 Ultimate Guide
How to plan formal family shot list for your 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
10 San Francisco City Hall wedding day-of tips!
Standard wedding vows for your City Hall ceremony
Jen & Jeff
From San Francisco, CA
Megs & Chad
From Calgary, Canada
Jake & Omar
From Phoenix, AZ