The former National Geographic magazine photographer, Chuck O’Rear, was driving to visit his girlfriend when he was struck by the beauty of the Californian rolling vineyards in Napa Valley.
Chuck O’Rear, now 69, was so entranced by the green of the grass and the white clouds in the perfectly blue California sky that he pulled over and got out his camera.
Never for a moment did Chuck O’Rear think the shot would become the most viewed image on the planet.
When it comes to famous photographs, a computer desktop image is unlikely to be the first thought on most people’s minds.
More than a billion people around the world have seen Chuck O’Rear’s photo of the countryside near his Napa Valley home, in Sonoma, North California.
Most of them don’t even realize they have been looking at it.
For it was chosen by Microsoft engineers as the desktop image for their Windows XP background.
Chuck O’Rear signed a confidentiality agreement so he can’t say how much he got paid – it is reportedly the second most expensive photo license ever purchased.
“I drove the same route between Napa and San Francisco a couple of times a week in 2002 or 2003 but this was January when the grass is the most brilliant green here so I jumped out and took a couple of shots and then carried on my way,” said Chuck O’Rear.
Chuck O’Rear didn’t give much more thought to the picture after picking up girlfriend Daphne Larkin, who he married shortly after.
It was only when Chuck O’Rear got a call from his agent with the Corbis photo archive telling him that Microsoft wanted the original of the picture that he discovered he’d hit the jackpot.
“I had no idea when I took the photograph that anything like that could happen. It is probably the most recognized photo on the planet. If you took it to some village in Bangladesh the might recognize it or you could stop somebody walking down the street in China and they may know what it is,” Chuck O’Rear added.
Chuck O’Rear, who began his career with the Kansas City Star and the Los Angeles Times, worked for 25 years for the National Geographic and now specializes in photographing winemaking in Napa and around the world.
Unlike many PC users, Chuck O’Rear doesn’t get to see his XP photo every day, because he uses a Mac.