On the Red Carpet and Beyond

600LIVE! speaks with Unit Still Photographer Trae Patton

February 2, 2020
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Work will never get monotonous for Trae Patton. The Santa Barbara-raised still photographer won’t let it.

“It’s nice to be diversified,” said Patton. “I really love not ever getting pigeon-holed into one strict thing. I still like doing unscripted shows. I still like doing awards shows and red carpets. I still love doing scripted shows instead of just getting to the point where it’s like, ‘Oh, I only want to do comedies or dramas or science fiction.’”

“I love being able to still have that flexibility and opportunity to keep mixing it up,” he continued. “It kind of keeps things fresh for me.”

Patton spoke to 600Live! a couple weeks before shooting the 57th Annual ICG Publicists Awards for Local 600. Believe it or not, that assignment was a first. A veteran of countless award shows from the Grammys to the Emmys to the Golden Globes, Patton had previously attended the Publicists Awards, but had never worked them.

Every new assignment comes with fresh challenges. Patton knew he would have to negotiate a snug green room at The Beverly Hilton to get backstage footage. In addition, although the Publicists Awards will include some celebrity honorees and presenters, many of the honorees are not what Patton calls “the day-to-day talent that everyone wants images of.”

In fact, it’s the opposite.

“I’m shooting my peers, the people I work with on set on a normal basis,” he said, “and a lot of these people aren’t people who go in front of the lens on a day-to-day basis. A lot of us in Local 600 work because we have a passion and love for photography and videography and pictures. We like to be behind the lens, not in front of it. I know I’m like that.”

If there’s an art to working award show red carpets, Patton has become a veritable Michelangelo. He is now the go-to award photographer for CBS and NBC, one of the few individual photographers working the awards shows who is not hired by stringer services like Getty Images. After being a unit photographer on many unscripted shows (including 15 seasons of The Voice), Patton has developed relationships with working actors and actresses and their publicists that give him an edge when he meets them on the red carpet.

“The music industry is very encapsulated. If they see a friendly face or someone they recognize, you kind of get a little more attention,” Patton said. “I roam on the red carpet for CBS at the Grammys mostly because I work with all this talent all the time. So if I see Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani and John Legend, it’s like ‘Oh, hey, yeah, what do you need?’”

“The same thing goes for publicists,” he continued “At the last Golden Globes, being able to stop Taylor Swift on the red carpet when she’s rushing to get in, it’s literally because I’ve had a long relationship with her publicist. ‘Wait a minute. Hold on. Stop for Trae.’”

When he’s not working the awards show circuit, Patton is a busy unit and gallery photographer for shows like The Voice and Songland. Earlier work on The Amazing Race allowed Patton to travel to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. These days, between scripted and unscripted programs, Patton often finds himself on 5-7 different sets in the course of a single week.

He recently shot Picard, crossing that particular TV “enterprise” off his bucket list.

“It’s such a beautifully shot production, and for someone who is still a kid at heart, what is not to love working on starships, aliens and action,” he said. “Plus, it is close to my heart as I grew up watching Captain Kirk and Captain Picard and it was something my father and I had a common affection for.”

Patton’s father was an airline pilot for Delta and his mother worked as a dental hygienist. Out of high school, Trae took some classes at the Brooks Institute and later went to Lehigh University in Allentown, PA to study marketing and PR. He eventually relocated to Salt Lake City and rekindled an interest in photography. He shot the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City for NBC/Universal in 2002 and did some unit photography for location shoots in Utah. Urged to come to Los Angeles by friends and colleagues, he relocated in 2002 and joined Local 600 a couple years later.

“It certainly was a very important decision to make,” Patton said of the choice to go union. “I remember asking a lot of photographers what to do and everyone kind of replied back with ‘It’s a very personal decision.’ The consensus was always it can’t hurt you to become union. It can probably only help you by hopefully giving you more opportunities and opening up doors. And it definitely has.”

Among his professional mentors, Patton names long-time CBS photographer Tony Esparza with whom he worked on the early seasons of The Amazing Race and Christopher Haston. Patton and his wife Hillary have two daughters, 6-year-old Cassidy and 2-year-old Annabelle. Older son Cade, 20, is in college and interested in becoming a music producer. Patton has even been able to help Cade get on to a couple of union sets to work as a production assistant.

“It’s been great to be able to help him get the opportunity to experience this kind of funky world we call entertainment and business,” said Patton. “Let him see it first-hand and get a feel for it, see it it’s something he wants to do at a young age.

“I can’t imagine if I had had that opportunity,” Patton adds with a laugh. “Who knows if I’d still be doing this if I had.”

See Trae Patton’s photos from the 57th Annual ICG Publicists Awards here.

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