The Photo That Made Millions Experience "Bliss"

June 8, 2023 | Samantha Henman

The Photo That Made Millions Experience "Bliss"

If you were to ask someone what they thought the most-viewed photo in history was, a few different answers might pop up. Maybe that one shot of the moon, or a photo reproduction of the Mona Lisa. However, the real photo, while still strikingly beautiful, is far more mundane. There’s no way to definitively measure it, but many believe that the most-viewed photo of all time is the bucolic Windows XP default background image, “Bliss”.

It’s an image so perfect it looks as though it was generated by AI—but it is in fact a real photograph. Former National Geographic photographer Charles O'Rear was driving through the Napa Valley when he captured the image. The area in the photo had been a vineyard, but farmers had cleared the vines after an infestation, allowing the grass to grow over the land, which is along the Sonoma Highway. 

O’Rear was working on a book about the wine industry in Napa with his girlfriend, and as he drove by, the combination of the green grass, vivid blue sky, and fluffy clouds stopped him in his tracks. He used his Mamiya RZ67 camera and loaded it with Fujifilm Velvia film. It all came together to make a perfect photo. 

Bliss EditorialWikimedia Commons

O’Rear realized the photo had potential—but not for his book. He named the image “Bucolic Green Hills” and sold it as a stock image. It was a decision that would change his life.

Years later, as the Microsoft design team put the finishing touches on their Windows XP operating system, they selected a number of stock images from Corbis to use as desktop backgrounds. The one that stood out the most was “Bucolic Green Hills,” so they worked out a deal with Corbis and O’Rear to change it to “Bliss,” and make it their default desktop image.

For the photo, Microsoft offered O’Rear what he claims is the second-highest figure paid to a photographer for an image, though the exact figure is confidential. Microsoft certainly got a return on investment, though—by 2002, the system had sold more than 17 million copies, and when each user opened XP for the first time, they experienced “Bliss”.

Sources: 1, 2

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