National Geographic photographer Charles O’Rear struck gold in the late 1990′s when Microsoft purchased his California landscape photograph, Bliss.
“I had no idea where any of it was going to go,” says O’Rear. His photo was used as Window XP’s default desktop image beginning in 2001. More than 12 years later, Microsoft estimates a billion people have seen O’Rear’s image on computer desktops around the world.
As Microsoft announced the end of Window XP support this week, a tribute video was released sharing O’Rear’s story behind the now iconic photograph.
Watch the video below as the photographer discusses his equipment, process, and the story behind Bliss.
Landscape photographers will find familiar insight in O’Rear’s approach. He describes how capturing a scene at just the right moment requires always being ready for it to happen. While mindful of the rainy season that brings new grass growth to the surrounding Napa Valley hillsides, O’Rear was sure to pack his gear during his countryside drives:
“I know the chances of finding these beautiful hillsides are really good. I’m going to be more prepared. I’m going to be more alert. I’m going to be more focused and paying attention to what might happen.”
His readiness paid off. While driving down a country road in January 1996 he came upon the scene and saw perfection. Shooting with a Mamiya medium format camera, O’Rear took just four exposures, hand-cranking the camera between frames:
“I used a film that had more brilliant colors—the Fuju film, at that time—and the lenses of the RZ67 were just remarkable. The size of the camera and film together made the difference and I think helped the Bliss photograph stand out even more. I think if I’d have shot it with 35mm it would not have nearly the same effect.”
O’Rear maintains the photograph came straight out of the camera. “It’s the real deal, it wasn’t Photoshopped. What you see is what you get.”
Several years after capturing the shot, Microsoft reached out to O’Rear through his agent, Corbis. After some negotiation and an undisclosed sum, O’Rear signed over the rights to Bliss, and the rest is history. For an extra dose of nostalgia, check out the Microsoft commercial from 2001 featuring O’Rear’s photo.