$100,000 Vs. $45: The Differences Paid to the Photographers Behind These Microsoft Windows Images

$100,000 Vs. $45: The Differences Paid to the Photographers Behind These Microsoft Windows Images

You’re no doubt familiar with these two images since both have served as stock photos placed on every Windows computer. However, the huge difference in the payday for their respective photographers may surprise you.

“Bliss,” the photo of a blue sky and green field taken somewhere in the middle of the Napa and Sonoma counties in California, January 1996, was shot by Charles O’Rear. His photo was picked as the default wallpaper for Microsoft XP after being spotted through the Westlight stock photo agency, which had just been purchased by Bill Gates’ Corbis.


Bliss by Charles O'Rear

Although the exact sum hasn’t been publicly disclosed, it is known to be over $100,000. And even the submission of the image brings with it an interesting story. According to the St Helena Star:

Delivering the original image to Microsoft, however, was another issue. The Software giant paid an amount in the low six figures for the photo, something which still amazes O’Rear. Because of the value of the photo, however, the cost of insuring it was so prohibitive that even “Fed Ex wouldn’t touch it,” he said.

Ultimately, Microsoft paid for a plane ticket and he hand delivered the photo to their office in Seattle.

In contrast, Peter Burian, the photographer behind “Autumn,” which also features within XP, wasn’t quite so lucky. He submitted his photo to Corbis as a royalty-free image – thus receiving the standard cut, despite Microsoft’s widespread usage.


Autumn by Peter Burian

The Toronto Star reached out to Burian in 2007, and reported the following:

Peter Burian shot the picture along with hundreds of frames in October 1999 while he was testing lenses for a photography trade magazine. He sent it to Corbis, where Microsoft probably purchased it for $300. Burian’s cut was $45 […]

“I was more shocked to find out that one of my photographs is available to hundreds of millions of people,” [Burian] says. “I didn’t think anything of it when I took it."

It’s quite the contrast in payday. Arguably, since Burian’s “Autumn” shot is featured within the sample photos (a folder few actually venture to), the two can’t really be compared. It’s also due to his own conscious decision to license the image as royalty-free, whilst unbeknownst to him, a tech giant was about to use it millions of times over. What are your thoughts?