Near the end of 2005 I was commissioned by software giant Microsoft for a photoshoot of potential marketing and wallpaper images for their then-upcoming new version of Windows operating system; Windows Vista. Fast forward to January 30th, 2007; Windows Vista is released to the masses worldwide and two of my images are being displayed on hundreds of millions of computers around the world as official windows wallpapers. Below is my story; an inexperienced self-taught photography new-comer who’s images became known to millions.
how everything started
My dad was a serious photography enthusiast; so I pretty much grew up around cameras. However, I never really owned a camera growing up. In fact, I can hardly remember even taking pictures before my 20s. I did however have quite a passion for digital arts in my teenage years. When I told my dad I was thinking of buying my first Digital SLR, he was obviously very supportive. My choice was the Canon 20D. I very respectable mid-range DSLR at the time (early 2005). I went absolutely wild with that camera and took it with me everywhere.
Within a few weeks I discovered Flickr; an online photography community for sharing and discovery. Flickr got me absolutely hooked. I loved everything about it. You could upload your work to archive it, people can see it and comment/favourite, you could see other people’s work and discover some absolutely talented people. I think from that point on, I just wanted to get better; a lot better.
I bought all sorts of photography books, and I studied every photograph I came across. I had one goal; I wanted to learn everything I could about photography, and I wanted to get good at it. I took my camera everywhere. To work, the store, hikes, events, … all of it. I took hundreds and hundreds of images. I reviewed and critiqued every single one. As the days go by, I was seeing improvement in my photography. I could see that I was getting better. My images were cleaner, the colors were pleasing, and the compositions had purpose. I started also getting more and more compliments from friends, people at work, and the flickr community.
I decided one day to print some of the pictures I was taking. I went to the same local shop where I purchased some of my gear, “Total Camera and Video” and took my memory card with me. When I went back to collect the prints, something was up. All the people in the store gathered to meet me. They told me they were waiting to meet the person who took those pictures. They even asked if they could hang one or two of them in the shop. I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT. I was just a 23 year old foreign kid who bought a camera less than a year ago. It was so humbling. A few weeks later, a co-worker asked to pay for professionally-printed albums of my photographs that she would use as holiday gifts for her family and friends. She even asked me to sign them. A month or so after that, the council of the city of Ashland, Oregon saw a picture I took one of the city’s iconic parks and asked me to use it on the city’s brochures.
approached by microsoft
One day a flickr message from a user asking if I was interesting in selling some of my work appeared in my inbox. I simply replied “sure, why not”. The following day I received an official offer from non other than software giant Microsoft. I did not know how to react; I was overwhelmed. Several emails, and phone calls followed. After a few weeks of conversations and discussions everything was set. I was officially commissioned by Microsoft for a photoshoot to produce images that would potentially be used as wallpapers for their then-upcoming operating system, Windows Vista.
The conditions of the photoshoot were pretty straight forward. I was given a deadline to submit 15 photograph; Microsoft would pick 5 out of the 15 and I would get paid a pre-agreed amount. There was no guarantees that any of those images would make it onto the Windows Vista installation disk. If any of my images is selected to be “the default” wallpaper of the system, then an additional compensation would be paid.
There were also some rules and guidelines to follow. For example, the images needed to be completely neutral. They shouldn’t refer to a known location, idea, religion, …etc. The images also needed to make sense as desktop wallpapers. They should not be cluttered or interrupt the user experience by obscuring icons, and the overall colors should be familiar to windows users and true to the windows brand.
Once the contract documents were signed, the plan what simple; get out there and start shooting. As I was then working fulltime at Rogue Valley Medical Center, I needed to take some time off to fully devote the time and effort needed to deliver. I spoke to my supervisor, explained the whole thing, and asked for 2 weeks off. She kindly agreed.
I bought an Oregon map, plotted the areas I need to visit, kept a close eye on the weather (It was in the middle of winter and many areas were getting bombarded by snow storms), and rented a 4×4 SUV for a 10 day trip.
12 days of pure photography, several thousand RAW files to sort through, and countless of hours in front of the computer screen all came down to the critical moment; I must now pick the 15 images that I must submit to Microsoft before the deadline. It took a while believe me; but I settled on the ones I should submit. Weeks go by and Microsoft replied with the 5 images they chose out of the 15 images I submitted… and that was it.
Fast forward almost a year; Windows Vista is finally released to the public. To my absolute delight, two of the 5 images Microsoft picked made it to the installation disc (one of the two images offered in standard as well as wide aspect ratio) . To say it was the stuff of dreams is an understatement. Hundreds of millions of copies of Windows Vista were sold throughout its lifetime, and all of which contained two photographs I personally took; an amateur with the most basic of kits. (see images below)
Walking into retails stores and computer shops all over the worlds and seeing your pictures displayed on hundreds of screens all at once is a feeling that I will forever fail to fully describe and will certainly never get used to. I remember walking into stores in Malaysia (I was on my Honeymoon) and seeing my pictures everywhere. I used to walk up to the screens and right click on my pictures to see my name in the “Author” section in the details tab under file properties. Those were some crazy days.
My photographs in windows vista
The beauty of this whole adventure is that it wasn’t expected. I’ve picked up the camera because I thought it was something cool, and somehow ended up being completely in-love with photography. I practiced, read, and experimented so much to get better and it paid-off. It paid-off in the most amazing way I must say. Now I’m not claiming to be a photography prodigy by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I have always seen myself as an amateur hobbyist, and still to this date. All the praise and exposure I was getting was nice for sure, but it was also unexpected. I’ve never done anything in my life expecting to be praised for it. I’ve always done things because I liked doing them, and I always do the things I like to the maximum of my ability however.
I’ve always enjoyed the process of learning a new skill, and getting better at things; to me that makes me feel that I have evolved. This is true in all aspects of my whole life and not just photography. Whether it is my career or one of my many hobbies, I have always loved learning everything there is to learn and improving however possible. Whenever I develop an interest for something, I immediately want to know everything there is to know about it. It is my DNA, and as I’m getting older, I realize more and more that this is exactly the personality of my father.
I remain to this day humbled by this experience. When I bought my Canon EOS 20D, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine something like that would ever happen; and for it to even all happen within a year of me picking up a camera is just INSANE. (Check out the gallery below for some of the images taken during this project)
I will forever be grateful to Jenny Lam, and the rest of the Microsoft User Experience team at the time for believing in me and giving me this opportunity.