Read on for everything you need to know to plan the perfect elopement at city hall in New York City!
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Book photos, flowers, etc.
Get your marriage license
Pick your dates and location
Make your ceremony appointment
As of 2023, the Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island city clerk's offices are open for wedding ceremonies. Ceremonies can be performed 24 hours after a couple gets their license (and are on weekdays only), and the license remains valid for 60 days.
Marriage license appointments can be booked for 3 weeks ahead of time. In-person appointments for licenses are released every Monday morning at 9am EST; virtual marriage license appointments are released each Thursday morning at 9am EST. In order to book a ceremony appointment, you need to have either a marriage license number OR an upcoming appointment to get your license (they'll ask for the date of your appointment and the city that will be issuing it).
In-person ceremony appointments are released every Monday morning at 9am EST for the week 3 weeks ahead (for example, on January 3rd, ceremony appointments dropped for the week of January 24th, and so on. I've seen a week's worth of ceremony appointments disappear in under 5 minutes, so make sure to set an alarm and check right at 9am to get yours!
I'm sure it goes without saying that I would love to take your city hall elopement photos. I also have lots of recommendations for fantastic floral designers, makeup artists, hair stylist, and more who work magic on elopements. Feel free to reach out to me at any point in your planning process and I'm happy to help!
Get inside & get your ticket
We'll meet just outside the marriage bureau and enter together; we'll all have to show I.D. and go through security, and then you'll receive your ticket (it'll have a number like C013) and be told to wait until your number is called. Hang on to your ticket; I love to photograph those!
Fill out paperwork & pay
When your number is called, we'll go up to a clerk's station and we'll all show our I.D. again, fill out the paperwork (this is where your witness will sign) and you'll pay the $25 fee. Then we'll be told to wait again!
Wait & take photos
This is the time we usually have a few minutes of waiting before being called for the ceremony; we can take photos around the marriage bureau (including in front of the cheesy courthouse backdrop I love) while we wait.
You'll be called again and assigned one of the two ceremony room options by the officiant. The ceremony itself is incredibly short (about a minute if you don't exchange rings; a few seconds longer if you do) and you won't be able to recite custom vows or anything like that. At the end of the ceremony the officiant will hand you your marriage certificate, and then we can take a couple of minutes taking photos in the room before leaving.
You're married!! We'll take a few minutes for more photos inside the ceremony room, as well as any other photos we want throughout the marriage bureau. Then it's time to exit through that iconic (and heavy--be prepared to really push!) door for more photos, a confetti toss, and any other celebration we have planned!
*NOTE: As of March 2023, the Manhattan Marriage Bureau building is still covered in scaffolding, blocking some outdoor shots. I'll be keeping tabs on the construction and will update here once it's gone, but reach out to me and I'll be happy to send you photos of what it looks like now for reference so you know what to expect.
Is it "city hall," the "city clerk's office" or the "marriage bureau"?
I use the three terms pretty interchangeably; most of the information here refers to the Manhattan City Clerk's Office (141 Worth St, New York, NY 10013) since I shoot there the most often but a lot of it applies to the other boroughs' city clerks offices too.
You don't need much; the city clerk's office will provide an officiant and I can be your witness! Just bring the same ID you used to get your marriage license, the $25 marriage ceremony fee (payable by credit card or money order), a sturdy folder to hold your marriage license and any other documents, and a bottle of water if you'll need it (there's none inside). Besides that, try to travel as light as possible and condense everything you're bringing to a single tote bag, if you can, so I can handle/hold it in between photo spots.
What should we bring with us?
The short answer is: sometimes, yes. The longer answer is: be prepared to mask while going through security and while signing paperwork. The masking policies seem to have relaxed a bit as of 2023 and we can take photos in most areas without masks, but I can't guarantee you won't be asked to wear them at some point. You won't be forced to wear them during your ceremony (for a while in 2021, this was not the case). And then of course we can shoot maskless outside those iconic doors and elsewhere in the city!
Will we have to keep our masks on inside the marriage bureau?
How many guests can we have?
As of Feb 14, 2023, per their Twitter account, city hall is now allowing each couple to have up to 3 guests (which means you can have a photographer + 2 other people come in with you) and a family member or friend can be your witness! Any additional family or friends can meet us outside the exit for hugs, photos and confetti.
I get this question a lot from couples eloping at city hall, and it's obviously a really personal choice, but I do have a few more general tips. Don't be afraid of wearing something colorful or unconventional! Try to avoid a long dress with a train that will drag behind you; even if we're just shooting inside the marriage bureau and a little outside the doors, the ground is DIRTY and you probably don't want to be thinking about holding up your dress or keeping it clean while we're moving around, taking/shooting on the subway, etc. Also, if it's going to be cold out, think about wearing a coat you don't mind photographed. We can take coats off for a few photos outside but I like to shoot elopement days as they happen; if it was cold and wet out, let's lean into the romance of NYC on a rainy day. And wear shoes you can walk in!
What should we wear?
How early should we arrive?
Since city hall ceremonies are by appointment now, there's no need to arrive an hour early to wait in line. I like to plan to meet up about 15 minutes before your scheduled ceremony time, but that's mostly to allow a little extra time for traffic or other delays.
How long will we be inside the marriage bureau?
The whole process usually takes between 25 and 45 minutes. It's a lot quicker now that you can make a ceremony appointment (compared to the pre-pandemic free-for-all), but we're still likely to have some downtime while we wait, which we can use for photos!
Where else can we take photos?
Just about anywhere in the city, depending on the amount of time we have together. A few ideas: my favorite empty subway car trick; DUMBO; Central Park; champagne and cake in a hotel; walking around Chinatown/SoHo/Lower East Side, and lots more... We can figure that part out together!
What if it rains or snows?
I'll bring a couple of clear umbrellas, and hand warmers if needed, and we'll lean into the weather! If there's a downpour or blizzard in the forecast and rescheduling is an option, we'll discuss ahead of time, but if there's just a little rain or snow we'll find a few covered spots for photos and brave the weather (either with or without umbrellas) otherwise!
Who brings the confetti?
"When we decided to work with Sylvie, we did not realize the wealth of knowledge she was able to provide beyond taking incredible pictures. Sylvie was unbelievably helpful throughout the entire city hall process and provided all the tips and tricks from securing a marriage license, to booking a ceremony appointment and even what to expect the day of. We don’t think the day would have been the same without her! It was completely stress-free and effortless."
Danielle & Murphy