Photo Tip of the Day: See Something Cool & Not Sure What It Is? Shoot First, Figure It Out Later

©G. Dan Mitchell

It’s entirely possible that this particular light display happens frequently in a particular Mission Viejo, California, house. It’s also very likely it attracts no attention. But on a certain April day in 2016, G. Dan Mitchell was in the house, and that made all the difference.

Mitchell and his wife were visiting their daughter and son-in-law. The family was in the living room when he noticed that the light hitting the patio door was putting on a colorful show. “With a camera in my hand, I start to see differently,” Mitchell writes at this image’s Flickr page, “and things that would otherwise often escape my notice start to catch my attention…”

His camera was, in fact, close at hand, so without thinking too much about what was causing what he was seeing, he went to work. “I did what I often do: Okay everybody, hang on a second, I’m going to take some pictures, I’ll talk to you when I’m done.”

The glass door itself is clear, but the refraction of light through the etched textures in the glass lit their surfaces with color. “All of a sudden what normally would have only different degrees of clarity from the etching ended up having color in them,” Mitchell says. “I think my daughter and son-in-law probably thought it was mildly amusing to see me get so fascinated by this. My wife, Patty [Patricia Emerson Mitchell], is also a photographer, so she probably thought it was mildly amusing, but she understood.”

He took the photo close to midday. “The door opened to an area that was sunny, but the sun was not actually on the door itself. The differences in color are due to the light hitting different textures in the etching on the glass.”

Mitchell is a music instructor on the faculty at De Anza College in Cupertino, California, and a semiprofessional photographer. He exhibits and sells his work, and his book, California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra, was published by Heyday Books.

At Flickr he describes himself as “a California photographer and visual opportunist,” and he says this photo is probably a perfect example of visual opportunism. “If you ask people what I am, they’d probably say a landscape photographer, but I photograph everything: street photography, night photography, travel images. It’s all part of seeing with a camera.”

G. Dan Mitchell’s website,, features a variety of images as well as informative, engaging articles about the tools and techniques of his art and craft.

Tech Talk: G. Dan Mitchell took the photo with a Fujifilm X-Pro2 and a Fujinon XF35mm f/2 R WR lens. The camera settings were 1/680 second, f/5.6, ISO 200, aperture priority, and center-weighted metering.