The Man Behind The 'Most Viewed Photo Ever' Says His Success Was Due To Being At The Right Place And Time

By Khadija Pervez in Feel Good On 7th August 2023

Back in January 1996, O'Rear was driving to see his partner, Daphne Larkin. He was going from his home in St. Helena, California, to her place in Marin County. Along the way, he saw something really interesting that he wanted to capture in a photo.

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O'Rear always carries a camera because you never know when you might come across a good photo opportunity. And on that day, his decision to have his camera handy paid off big time.

“I used to pull over often to take photos. I think the scenery there was so beautiful,” he recalled of the journey.”

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Speaking to Slate, O’Rear explained: “On this particular day in January, while driving this winding little what I call a country road, there it was.”

“I thought my God, the grass is perfect, it’s green, the sun is out, there’s some clouds.”

“It could have been no clouds and by the time I parked, by the time I set my camera up, the clouds might have come in because everything changed so quickly at that point.”

“So now I get the camera ready and here come the clouds and I make a frame, and I crank to the next one which we don’t do digitally anymore and it takes care of everything.”

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His picture, named 'Bliss', has a timeless feel. However, if you grew up using MacBooks instead of Microsoft products, you might be one of the few who haven't seen it.

The famous Windows XP 'Bliss' background became a common sight in offices and computer rooms during the 2000s. It was the default wallpaper for PCs running Windows XP from 2001 to 2007.

The picture is simple: rolling green hills illuminated by light, with a few clouds scattered above. This image added a touch of serenity to the experience of turning on a computer.

While many might have initially thought that the image, seen by over a billion people, was fake or edited, it has actually remained untouched.

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“When it’s on film, what you see is what you get,” O’Rear explained of the image, taken on a Mamiya RZ67 camera with colour Fuji Film and a tripod.”

“There was nothing unusual. I used a film that had more brilliant colours, the Fuji Film at that time, and the lenses of the RZ67 were just remarkable.”

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“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 had shot it with 35 millimetre, it would not have nearly the same effect,” O’Rear says in a video for Microsoft, shot by cameraman Bar Leferink and directed by Marcel Buunk under company Shoot the Rabbit.”

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While the image was just another frame for O’Rear, it has become his favourite.

His wife joked: “Twenty-five years at Geographic and nobody ever gives a damn about that.”

O’Rear explains: “I get emails maybe every week or two, something related to the ‘Bliss’ photograph.”

“When I die, although I won’t be buried, Daphne has said, on your tombstone, we’re not going to say National Geographic, we’re going to say ‘Photographer of Bliss’.”

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The photograph 'Bliss' eventually came under the ownership of Bill Gates from Microsoft, following the acquisition of the Westlight stock photo agency by his Corbis group in 1998. This agency was where the photographer initially submitted the 'Bliss' photo.

Reportedly, Microsoft bought the rights to 'Bliss' for a sum in the "low six-figures," which amounted to over $100,000. However, the precise amount remains undisclosed.

For O’Rear there is no escaping the ‘Bliss’ image: “No matter where we’ve been in the world – India, Thailand, Greece – that picture is always there, either on some old computer in an upscale hotel that hasn’t been updated in 30 years in the lobby the people are checking you in on, or, we saw that picture in billboards, airplanes, at airports,” O’Rear said.

“We were walking through the Chicago airport years ago and there it was.”

He continued: “I have a theory that anybody now from aged 15 on for the rest of their life will remember this photograph.”

“So now I’m in secondary school, I’m 15 years old, I was on my computer in school and I go onto college and I go on into the work world and now I’m 50 years old, 70 years old and I see that image somewhere. I won’t remember where I saw it, but I will remember it.”

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The hill has undergone plowing, and a vineyard has been established over the area in the foreground of the shot. Additionally, trees have grown behind the hill, as per a report by the Mail in April.