Thursday, December 28, 2023

Photographing a wedding in San Francisco's amazing City Hall

It was about a year ago when my next door neighbors told me that their daughter got engaged. Her future husband is from Ireland, so they were planning a small wedding here in the US and another one in Ireland. For the local wedding, they had made an appointment at City Hall in San Francisco, and they asked if I was available to photograph the momentous occasion for them in October of this year. I have known Danielle since the day she was born, and I was more than happy to volunteer my services!

I have photographed a couple of weddings in this amazing building, and looked forward to capturing beautiful images of them, and trying new things. I wanted to photograph them in new settings within the space, and from new angles. The wedding was to take place at 3pm, so I suggested that we meet at 2pm to take portraits of them and the extended family. 

I started with just Danielle and David. I went up to the third floor, looked down and saw this great location. I directed them to sit on the stairs below and look up at me. I used the Canon R6 MKII with the Canon RF24-70mm lens, shooting at ISO 2000, f/4.5, with a shutter speed of 1/125th sec. I had never tried this in the past and love all the negative space, the leading lines, the curves, light and shadows. 

I then had both of them join me on the third floor for portraits. For these portraits I used the Canon R3 with the Canon RF70-200mm lens (ISO 250, f/2.8, 1/125 sec) and I popped a Canon 600EX-RT flash at -1 exposure compensation to add just a touch of light to them. 

Since we were far from the background and I was shooting at f/2.8, the focus is almost entirely on them. You will also notice that one side of their face is lit slightly more than the other, This is because there are windows behind me adding some directional light.

I took numerous photos with different poses...

I have photographed in front of the windows in the past, and tried that once again. But this time I felt that it needed something more dramatic.

I asked Danielle and David if they were OK stepping up onto the window sill for a full length shot and they readily agreed. I switched back to the Canon R6 MKII with the wider lens, turned off the flash, and purposely underexposed by one full stop to create this silhouette. This is one of my favorite photos of the day.

Then it was time to take portraits of the rest of the family members. 

We then went over to where the wedding would take place. I saw these expansive arches and knew that I needed to capture some wide angle portraits here.  I removed the mid range zoom from the Canon R6 MKII and switched to the Canon RF15-35mm lens. I took this photo at 15mm.

And then at 3pm sharp, the wedding took place. 

The wedding itself only lasted a couple of minutes. I moved around to capture as many different angles as I could in the short amount of time.   

After the wedding, we took some more portraits. This time with me getting low and trying the Canon 8-15mm fish-eye lens.

Many people say that fish-eye lenses should never be used for portraits, but I disagree with that.

Before leaving the building, I knew that we needed some classic photos from the rotunda. There were other couples getting their portraits taken there, so we needed to wait a little bit for me to get a clean shot with nobody in the background. But it was very much worth the wait.

I then ran up to the second floor to get this wide shot of them in the rotunda. There were a couple of people in the background, but I removed them in Adobe Photoshop. You may also notice that in this and the previous photo, their shadow is going off to the right. I asked David's sister to hold a remote flash to the left side and point it at them. I then triggered that flash from my camera on the second floor. This adds some more dramatic lighting to the scene. 

I came back down and did some last photos on the beautiful staircase. This building was constructed in 1916 and has so much incredible detail. 

And speaking of detail...I had them rest their hands on the railing to get a shot of their rings.

As we left the building, they requested a photo in front of the entry door.

Since we had some free time in between the wedding and the dinner party, I drove them to a couple of my favorite locations in San Francisco for some additional portraits. You may recognize this staircase from other photos I have posted in the past. This location never disappoints. 

We were driving back towards City Hall (since the dinner was nearby) and I saw this location and thought about one last shot that would be fun for portraits. I knew that the lighting was not ideal, but I also knew that I could probably enhance the photo in Photoshop. So...I had Danielle lean on the gate on one side and David lean on the other side. I popped a flash towards them, hoping to add a little light to them, but that one flash was not enough.

Luckily, I was able to darken the background, lighten the foreground, and then lighten Danielle and David to bring them out even more. I also removed a bunch of other distractions including, the man and his dog on the middle grass, the helicopter in the sky, and the trucks in front of the building. I also removed the distortion from the wide angle lens, straightening the perspective. This finished image made for an awesome two-page spread in their albums.

If you get to San Francisco, you should visit this iconic building and take portraits for yourself. I hope that this blog post helps you in that endeavor.


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