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January 10, 2014

New themes… and a peek behind the scenes of the Open Call

I’ve mentioned the Open Call project several times in previous blog posts, and I thought I’d talk about it a bit more today. I refer to it as the “open call” because it’s open-ended (there is no deadline or specific end date), and because it’s an open invitation for folks to submit their own images to be considered for the Personalization Gallery. So far, we’ve published almost 120 themes and more than 230 wallpapers featuring photography or artwork submitted by members of the community, and many more are on the way.

Incidentally, you don’t need to get your image accepted into the Personalization Gallery simply in order to show it on your own desktop. We’ve received a few comments and emails showing that there are people who are a bit confused about this. It’s easy to create your own themes and use your own images as wallpapers or lock-screen images using pictures on your own PC. I’ll also talk more about this in an upcoming blog post. The only reason you might want to submit your images for publication on the Personalization Gallery is if you would like to share your work with a global audience.

So, how difficult is it to get into the gallery? Actually, there’s a lot of competition! We receive so many thousands of submissions that fewer than 5 percent end up being chosen. The sheer volume of submissions also means that the time between when you submit an image and when it actually appears on the gallery can be quite long–up to six months or even longer. I’m part of a small panel of reviewers who look at every single submission we receive, and carefully assess each photo or artwork before making selections and preparing them for publication. It can be a very time-consuming process.

When we’re reviewing submissions to the Open Call, here are just a few of the qualities we look for:

  • Artwork and photography must be original (must have been created by the submitter).
  • Details should be crisp and sharp. Images must be of high quality (high resolution and not blurry, pixilated, or over-processed). Colors should be rich and naturally saturated, not grayish or washed out.
  • Images should be dramatic, beautiful, interesting, or serene, not dull, depressing, or controversial. (For more information on subject matter, see the guidelines).
  • Landscape photographs should give a feeling of depth and dimension, with foreground, mid-ground, background, and sky.
  • We look for compositions that provide drama and interest instead of looking flat, static, or like a snapshot.
  • Images should not be so busy that they are distracting and make it difficult to read icons and other objects on the screen.
  • Effective use of depth of field and/or selective focus can add interest to an image that might otherwise feel a bit ordinary, by drawing attention to the focal area while allowing the rest of the image to recede in a dreamlike way.

Some of what we look for is subjective and almost ineffable: an original point of view, unexpected use of light and shadow, or the impression of having captured a unique moment in time.

The nine newest themes on the gallery all feature the photography of participants in the Open Call, and each one provides examples of aspects we look for when we’re reviewing photographic submissions.

I’m especially excited to bring you the first themes by Australian photographer Tracie Louise. One is a tour around beautiful Queensland, including stunning color photography and moody monochromatic studies of shorelines, forests, farmland, and cityscapes.


The other new theme from Tracie Louise is a veritable rainbow of birds, featuring gorgeously colored rosellas, lorikeets, honeyeaters, and more.


New Zealand photographer Brian Lai’s first theme is a quietly poetic exploration of nature’s grace; including small details such as a shell on sand, emerging flower buds, and golden light shining through the leaves of a tiny sapling.


California photographer Tom Mansfield’s debut on the Personalization Gallery beautifully captures the dramatic silhouettes and vivid tangerine skies of nightfall in Sierra Sunsets.


The rest of our new themes are all from Personalization Gallery veterans. Light and Dark 2 is a follow-up to photographer Nick Boyer’s Light and Dark theme, and also shares a distinctive aesthetic with his Garden Seasons theme.


Indian nature photographer Rangan Das has been a prolific contributor to the Personalization Gallery Open Call, and I’m sure his two newest themes will be as popular as his previous ones have been. His raindrops theme focuses on lucent jewels of water on leaves and petals.


His other new theme, Garden Glimpses 4, ventures into the garden again for the latest in the series.


In December, we published the first theme from German photographer Thomas Freiberg, and today I’m happy to bring you two additional themes featuring his nature photography. His new dragonflies theme complements the butterflies theme we published in December.


His other new collection, German Summer, takes us on a walk through the fields and meadows of Brandenburg to see the busy insect life and lush grasses and wildflowers of summer.


If you have an older version of Windows that can’t use themes, or if you prefer to use a single image (perhaps on your lock screen or Windows Phone), we also have new wallpapers for you. Here are just a few… all are from participants in the Open Call, too.


(To see each photographer’s name, open up the wallpaper image full size and look in the lower right-hand corner.)

One of my favorite things about working on the Open Call project is the opportunity it’s given me to “meet” artists and photographers, from hobbyists and students to professionals, in almost every corner of the globe. It’s an armchair traveler’s dream job.

By the way, one question I sometimes get is whether we contact all submitters to the Open Call to let them know whether or not their submissions have been accepted. If we select your image, I will personally email you before we publish it. But unfortunately, there are too many submissions for me to email the thousands of submitters whose images are not chosen.

I hope this peek behind the scenes – and the great new array of themes and wallpapers that showcase photography from participants in the Open Call – will not only help you beautify your Windows devices, but also inspire you to think about how your own artwork or photography might make great themes. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post for more on that. And if you have questions about the Open Call project, take a look at the frequently asked questions page.