Shooting City Hall Weddings with Emily Gutman

Shooting City Hall Weddings probably sounds kind of ideal to most wedding photographers.

You’re in, you’re out in just a few short hours without the drama and stress potential of a big traditional wedding.

emily gutmanThis show is a conversation between me and my long-term client Emily who talks all about shooting city hall weddings. Emily shares her story on accidentally discovering this market by making a simple blog post on what a typical day at work looks like for her.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or anywhere good podcasts are found: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/p… 

What you do for work, play and where do you live? [00:00:28]

  • I live in Oakland California and have a company called Emily Takes Photos.
  • I’m a photographer and specialize in shooting City Hall weddings in San Francisco building for myself.
  • I love selling, quilting, cooking and hanging out with my dog Oppenheimer.

Where can people find you and see some of your work on social media handles? [00:01:38]

Shooting City Hall Weddings

How did you find this little niche of shooting City Hall weddings? [00:02:18]

  • I got into the niche by having an advice column on my blog that addressed how to schedule your wedding day timeline, when vendors should eat and then how to get married at San Francisco city wall. This advice walks you through the paper work you had to do, the office you need to go to, the website where you can book everything and an album of pretty pictures shot at the City Hall.
  • This advice was created so that clients won’t need to ask the same questions over and over again. But when people were to get married and googled how to get married in San Francisco City Hall, my blog came up.
  • Before long, my calendar got filled up. But then, I realized I could make the same amount of money doing small weddings than doing these big weddings that ate up my weekends.
  • Now, my longest work day is four hours and that’s if clients book extra time.

What does the booking process look like for you? [00:05:51]

  • San Francisco City Hall has a 90 days book window for all their ceremonies, so I follow that booking window.

Why are these couples marrying at City Hall and what is your typical client like? [00:07:58]

  • Some of the couples wed here want to wed here because they love San Francisco and want to do a destination wedding.
  • Others, it’s the second marriage thus they are just not making it as big as their first wedding. A lot of the couples are young, it’s their first-time wedding and they want something low key.
  • San Francisco City Hall is beautiful and it has great restaurants where they have fancy meals.

What are some of the challenges of shooting city hall weddings? [00:11:21]

  • One, tourists.
  • Two, tourists with iPads taking a thousand photos and won’t get out of your way.
  • The biggest challenge is there are so many weddings happening. They have half hour time slots with three couples for every half hour which means there will also be three photographers. So we have to figure out how to share the space. For some of us, it’s super quick because we know our way.
  • Sometimes, when I get there, people in the way would help clear people out of one shot. One instance, there is this grand staircase on the main level and it’s a perfect spot for photos and there were three of us with our couples. We ended up setting up the couples so that all three photographers could shoot at the same time.
  • Another challenge was people would bring in their photographer friends who aren’t professionals and so we had to give them a little space to figure out what they’re doing.

What are the joys of shooting city hall weddings? [00:15:33]

  • First of all, the building itself the exciting moments because of couples walking down the hallway, the beauty of the bride.
  • Everyone is so happy and excited.

Do you sometimes have to challenge yourself artistically and how do you have to deal with that? [00:17:27]

  • I was concerned about taking the same photos over and over. I take comfort in knowing that that’s what my client wants. They see the photos on my site and they request for the same photo.
  • It can be challenging because there are areas that are roped off because they are setting up for another event or there are tourist or group of school kids for a dance performance and these events put me on my toes.
  • A lot of times the couples break me out of the routine because they have their own ideas. At the end of the day, my clients are happy.

Walk us through your typical day of shooting city hall weddings.  [00:19:54]

  • I have three packages that I offer the couples and the main one is about an hour and a half. I meet the couples at the clerk’s office where they fill up their license paper work and I actually go through the paper work to make sure it’s correct.
  • Then, we’ll go to the top of the building and spiral our way down back to the clerk’s office and that takes about 45 mins and we just get all the portraits out of the way then we get them checked in for the ceremony.
  • Lots of time I stand as their witness and sign their paper work. As soon as the couple is married, we descend to the underground staircase and then take some photos outside the city hall gate and then we part ways.

When people book you especially if they are from out of town, do you have a video chat with them or a photo of them? How do they identify you at the city hall? [00:21:56]

  • I have a photo of myself on my website and I have curly hair thus I’m very easy to spot.
  • Sometimes, some clients talk on the phone, on Skype call especially for clients who are from outside the country.

Do you shoot weekend weddings anymore or it’s exclusively city hall? [00:22:58]

  • No, I’m only exclusively shooting city hall weddings.
  • Once in a while, I get a request for a small backyard wedding that would require few hours of coverage.
  • If I’m not doing anything that weekend I’m happy to do that but any coverage more than 3 hours I send them off to someone’s equipped for that.

How do your clients find you if they’re not the groom’s men and bridesmaid at the wedding that you shot? Is it through your blog post? [00:23:32]

  • I have updated the post a couple of times to keep things up to date but it was re-posted on a couple of different wedding blogs and that helps the SEO.
  • Most of the clients say when they google San Francisco City Hall wedding, my name is the first that pops up.
  • I get a hand full of referrals but mostly it’s fresh couples.

Do you have any allies through City Hall that refer you out? [00:24:30]

  • The event office was trying to put together a list of vendors that they could refer but they had a list of 200 photographers so they decided not to.

What kind of advice would you give to a photographer that is thinking about shooting city hall weddings? How do they get started? [00:24:58]

  • I got started by trying to be helpful.
  • Keep your clients in mind. Go to city hall, find out what the process is, take some photos why you’re there.
  • If you don’t have any one getting married there, ask some friends to dress up and take some few photos. People like to see what the city hall looks like.
  • Talk about the license and ceremony process, how the time line works, where you can go afterward if your city hall is not that amazing.
  • There may be a great park nearby where you could take portraits at. If there are restaurants that would make for a great post wedding lunch or dinners, post those photos.
  • Place yourself in the shoes of the couples trying to get married there, what are all the things you want to know then write those down. Title it “How to get married in whatever city you’re in city hall.”

Is there anybody at city hall who would have a conversation with a potential photographer who wants to shoot there? [00:26:17]

  • In California, licenses and ceremonies are attended to by the county clerk’s office.
  • Talk to someone there. It’s really busy but if you call and say “This is what I’m doing can I set up a time?” They should be able to accommodate you. And you could walk in there and ask, be nice.

 

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