The Washington Post

Meet the man behind Microsoft’s iconic ‘Bliss’ photograph

More than 1 billion people have seen this photo — and if you’ve used a PC within the past 10 years, you’re probably one of them.

The iconic photo on a Microsoft banner in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta, File)

The iconic picture of a sloping green hill was the default desktop background on Window’s XP operating system. It is now, according to its photographer, 73-year-old Charles O’Rear, one of the most-seen photos in the world.

As O’Rear told Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, he took the photo after a storm in California wine country in 1996 and submitted it to the stock agency Corbis, where Microsoft found it shortly thereafter. While the company did enhance the photo — the colors in the desktop version are far more vivid than in O’Rear’s original — it was otherwise unedited. It was also bought in one flat payment, something O’Rear regrets.

“I should’ve negotiated a [better] deal and said, ‘Just give me a fraction of a cent for every time it’s seen’ and that would’ve been a nice arrangement,” he told the Morning Herald.

O’Rear, who has also shot for National Geographic and the Los Angeles Times, and is now a prominent wine photographer, was in Australia as part of a tour to publicize Microsoft’s abandonment of the old XP system. That photo’s not going anywhere, though. Just try Googling “bliss.”

Caitlin Dewey is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (

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