The most viewed photograph in history

Image showing vibrant green hills and blue sky with clouds - image used by operating system Windows until 2016

'Bliss' by Charles O'Rear. Microsoft. Licence

The most viewed photograph may not be obvious, although the image itself is immediately recognisable to anyone who has ever sat down in front of a computer. In 1996, Californian landscape photographer Charles O’Rear was driving the backroads of wine country when he happened across what would normally be an ordinary enough scene - a grassy hill set against a blue sky (see the location here). O’Rear saw the potential in the everyday scene. Taken on a Mamiya RZ67 camera using Fuji film, which recorded more brilliant colours at that time. The combination of the ‘remarkable’ RZ67 lens, the size of the camera itself, and the vibrant film colours produced an unexpected result, with glowing, vibrant colours and crisp contrasts.

Many people have suggested the hyperreal colours point towards it being a possible fake or composite. However, the photographer has confirmed this image is 100% real. The image was sold to Westlight as a stock photograph, later bought by Corbis, who digitised their collection. made available via O’Rear’s agent Corbis, where it was noticed by Microsoft. At the time, they were searching for a background image for their new operating system, Windows XP, and ‘Bucolic Green Hills’ was chosen as part of a range of photos for the new OS, and later as the default image, renamed ‘Bliss’.

The amount Microsoft paid for the photo when they licensed it in 2001 was undisclosed, although described as ‘hefty’. Due to FedEx’s limit on max value for photo packages at $1,000, Microsoft flew O’Rear out to Microsoft HQ to personally deliver the photo.

HistoryHistory of photography

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