In January 1996 former National Geographic photographer Charles O'Rear was on his way from his home in St. Helena, California, in the Napa Valley north of San Francisco, to visit his girlfriend, Daphne Irwin (whom he later married), in the city, as he did every Friday afternoon. He was working with Irwin on a book about the wine country. He was particularly alert for a photo opportunity that day, since a storm had just passed over and other recent winter rains had left the area especially green. Driving along the Sonoma Highway (California State Route 12 and 121) he saw the hill, free of the vineyards that normally covered the area; they had been pulled out a few years earlier following a phylloxera infestation.
"There it was! My God, the grass is perfect! It's green! The sun is out; there's some clouds," he remembered thinking. He stopped somewhere near the Napa–Sonoma county line and pulled off the road to set his Mamiya RZ67 medium-format camera on a tripod, choosing Fujifilm's Velvia, a film often used among nature photographers and known to saturate some colors. O'Rear credits that combination of camera and film for the success of the image. "It made the difference and, I think, helped (the photograph) stand out even more," he said. "I think that if I had shot it with 35 mm, it would not have nearly the same effect." While he was setting up his camera, he said it was possible that the clouds in the picture came in.
"Everything was changing so quickly at that time." He took four shots and got back into his truck. According to O'Rear, the image was not digitally enhanced or manipulated in any way.