Have you seen the "most viewed photo ever"?

Bliss Microsoft XP background image
Bliss - the Microsoft Window's XP default background between 2001 and 2007 (Image credit: Microsoft Corp (taken by Chris O'Rear))

The iconic photograph known as Bliss, which served as the default wallpaper for Microsoft's Windows XP operating system between 2001 and 2007, has gained recognition as "the most famous picture in the world". In the years since it was taken, the location of the photo has undergone a remarkable transformation and today it’s a flourishing vineyard. 

Captured by National Geographic photographer Charles O'Rear in 1996 using a medium format Mamiya RZ67 in Sonoma, California, the stunning landscape of rolling green hills, a clear blue sky, and a solitary hilltop tree was taken as O’Rear traveled to see his now wife. This simple yet captivating image was selected to be the default wallpaper and installed on over a billion computers with Windows XP.  

• Check out the best film cameras – classic analog cameras that are still popular today

Over the years, Bliss has transcended its status as mere desktop wallpaper and has evolved into a symbol of tranquility and natural beauty. Everyone who grew up using a Windows computer during this era will be very familiar with it; its widespread recognition and nostalgic resonance have solidified its place in history and even though the landscape itself is no more, people's memories of the image will not. 

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the photo is it was taken on film and for many years people were under the impression it was Photoshopped – me included. Not only was it taken on film, but the image didn’t undergo any editing; how it appears as a desktop background is exactly how the photo was developed. 

O’Rear uploaded the image in 1998 to the stock image website Westlight, which was purchased by Microsoft for an undisclosed low six-figure sum over $100,000 (which is about $187,183 / £146,410 / AU$284,291 in today's money). 

For O’Rear, the photo has followed him throughout his life and in an interview with Shoot the Rabbit he joked, "When I die, even though 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'."

Recently, the location where the iconic photo was taken has undergone a significant transformation, turning the once barren hillside into a thriving vineyard. Nestled in the heart of California's Napa Valley, the now-lush landscape is dotted with rows of grapevines that produce some of the finest wines in the region.

O’Rear has a theory that anyone who is 15 years or older in 2023 will at least be familiar with the image. It’s appeared on computers in offices, hotels, shops, schools, homes and airports all over the world. And despite support for Windows XP ending in April 2014, according to GlobalStats counter, as of 2022 0.1% of all devices worldwide still run Windows XP.

Visitors still flock to the iconic landscape and, despite how much it’s changed, you can still recognize the Windows XP background that appeared whenever you turned on your PC. 

In an age of technological advancements, Bliss remains timeless. And there is something special about Microsoft – a company that was so very digital – selecting an analog image to be the background for arguably its most successful and popular operating system ever. 

Why not also check out the best desktop computers for photo editing, as well as the best film for cameras and browse a range of black-and-white and color stocks by Kodak, Fujifilm and Ilford.

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.