Meet Charles O'Rear, Photographer Behind Microsoft's Iconic Desktop Pic

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Anyone who's looked at a Microsoft Windows default desktop screen in the last 10 years has likely seen the work of photographer Charles O'Rear.

His photograph (right) of a grassy Sonoma County, Calif., hill called "Bliss" by Microsoft, earned him the second-highest payout for a living photographer in American history, just behind what Time paid for a photo of Bill Clinton hugging Monica Lewinsky.

Reached by phone, O'Rear tells Seattle Weekly that the payday sort of fell into his lap.

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Charles O'Rear.
"My photos are repped by Corbis, so when Microsoft was looking for photographs they went to Corbis," he says. "I got a call one day saying Corbis and Microsoft negotiated to use the photo."

O'Rear says he shot the photo in January of 2001, and that there were no enhancements made to the image at all--though he admits "Microsoft may have taken out a cloud or two."

He says that the intense emerald green of the grass is simply the results of a winter rain.

"People are always amazed that we can get that green of grass in January," he says. "But out here we definitely can."

He also tells us that the hill is now a vineyard and is far less beautiful.

In fact, here's a photo of it now.

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"It's not nearly as beautiful now," O'Rear says.

O'Rear's work is far from limited to a single shot of a pretty hill. His portfolio includes photos from around the world, and he specializes in wine photography from around his home in Napa Valley.

See his work here.

As for whether he owes his career's success to the "Bliss" pic, he says "No way."

"Did it mean that people hired me because of that photo? No," he says. "Did other things happen in my career because of it? No. Basically, people contact me and say it's a beautiful picture sometimes."

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