A Creative Way to Judge Less and Appreciate Life More

“Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.” ~Wayne Dyer

I am one of the millions of people in the world obsessed with photography. My camera is almost always with me, and when it isn't, my trusty iPhone works pretty well.

But photography for me is much more than a fun hobby, and it is much more than taking pretty pictures that I can sell.

Photography helps me notice and appreciate my life.

I practice what is called a meditative or contemplative form of photography. It’s about being present and open to life as it is, without judgment. It’s about being open to what the world offers up to me rather than looking for a particular shot.

How can we be open to life without judgment? Isn't judgment part of life?

Well, if we are photographing life as it is, there is no room for judgment. If we are photographing reality, it stands on its own.

We don't have to label it interesting or boring, beautiful or ugly. What we perceive as beautiful or ugly is highly subjective and often prevents us from seeing the complexity, the wholeness of what is actually there.

Let's face it. We don't like to be judged. And we are complex people—interesting to some but not everyone, sometimes kind, generous, and compassionate, and sometimes not.

Rainy days are one example I like to use when it comes to judgment. How many times have you heard someone say what a terrible day it was because of the rain? I'll bet we've all done it.

Rainy days can be inconvenient, interrupting our plans and causing our mood to match the gloominess of the day. Yet, rainy days are also necessary and nourishing, cleansing and cooling.

As someone who practices contemplative photography, I have learned to appreciate (almost) every day, rainy or not. I have photographed drops on leaves and reflections in puddles that are a wonder.

Rain 2

Rainy days actually make colors more vibrant. Too much light, especially harsh light tends to wash out color. Today, it is raining, and as I sit inside writing, I see fruit trees at the peak of fall color. It is magnificent to behold, a textural tapestry of green, yellow, orange, and red.

To notice these things makes me scrap any thoughts of the rain ruining my day.

What if when we wake up to a rainy day we were open to the possibilities of what we might see? It just might make our whole day different.

By letting go of judgment, I have been able to observe the artistic expression in graffiti, the abstract beauty in sidewalk cracks, and the incredible colors of rust.


I have learned to enjoy washing the dishes and making trips to the laundromat.


While standing in lines or being in crowds, I notice the unique expressions and stances of others, rather than the inconvenience.


I have learned to appreciate the value of death and decay.


The varied colors and shapes and textures of the food I eat every day makes me sit in awe.


Do you see what I'm getting at? All of these things have helped me to learn how to suspend judgment.

Now, I can look at the cranky sales clerk differently, wondering what is going on in her life and how maybe a kind word might jolt her out of it at least for a moment.

I look at the people I love and often take for granted. I notice the little gestures and expressions they make, and I forget about how they irritated me only a few minutes before. And, I appreciate that they love me, flaws and all, and forgive my mistakes.

Contemplative photography has had a profound impact on my life.

I still judge. I still have bad days. But learning to see with wonder and not judgment makes my days a lot more balanced.

If we look beyond our labels and judgments, there is a whole new world awaiting us. We expand our appreciation exponentially. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder and goes well beyond surface appearance.

Do you have to be a photographer to practice this way? No, but photographing what you notice is a way of acknowledging the moment, and it serves as a reminder of what you appreciated. A mental picture or writing in a journal works just as well.

How do you get started? Here are three ideas. Do one or all.

1. Take mindful photo breaks.

Set an alarm on your phone to go off at certain times during the day or take a few minutes during meal time to be present and notice what is around you in that moment—your food, who you're with, the way the light is shining, etc. Acknowledge what you see with a photograph.

2. Take judgment breaks.

Notice when you are making a judgment and try to look at the situation differently. For example, how you judge the day when you wake up, when you experience a person who brings down your mood, when you're stuck in a line, etc.

3. Take photo walks. 

With no specific intention of what to shoot, see what comes up. Notice light, colors, textures, and shapes instead of things. How does that change your perspective?

About Kim Manley Ort

Kim Manley Ort is a contemplative photographer who loves her life. She gets great pleasure in seeing things differently and helping others to do the same. Her workshops in seeing are both online and in person.

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  • Dochy

    This is SUCH an awesome post! The method you’ve mentioned is so so simple! All we have to do is view the world/situation/event through the lens’ eye within us! Brill, totally brill! Thank you Kim, for sharing this, and i gotta say, your photos are beautiful! 🙂

  • I never heard of contemplative photography; its a nice way to study mindfulness from a visual perspective, I suppose. On New Year’s Eve, I was waiting in an ever-extending long line at a local store and although the wait was a slight inconvenience and annoyance to my day — not to mention that we were outside on the sidewalk in cold weather, I started to open my ears a bit more, listening to the conversations of other customers waiting in line.

    It was interesting to learn how someone else’s day was turning out or how it was commencing, why he or she came to this particular store versus others in the city and/or what perspectives a person has on various topics from dating, religion, employment and more. I couldn’t help but notice that I spent so much time listening to other people that I stopped paying attention to how long we were all waiting to get into the store. Needless to say, I was no longer annoyed.

  • What a great example. The key is to pay attention, using all of your senses, just as you did.

  • Thank you!

  • Thoughtful post. I’m not a photographer, but I try to practice a meditative or contemplative way of living. Some years ago, I started working on non-judgment in my self. My role model: the fictional character of Kwai Chang Caine. He could come into the wildest wild west town and carry his own peace within him, noticing without judging or attaching. Great model. I was talking about non-judgment with my grands the other day. I asked them to consider a banana and not view it as either a good banana or a bad banana, but simply as a banana. 🙂
    When we make a judgment about something, we alter our experience of it. Just let it be what it is. As humans, we are prone to evaluating the good and the bad, but we can all learn to be less judgmental.

  • Carter

    During a period of intense stress in my life, I’ve been drawn to art. Watercolor painting, drawing, etc. I second what you say above because I experience this every day with my new love of art. Every leaf, every puddle, every rusted nail calls for me to paint them. A really talented artist can take an image that most would find boring or “ugly” and make it beautiful (like a bucket of rusty railroad spikes). I find that I’m much more observant now than before, and I’m also more calm. It amazes me how much is around us, yet so few stop to appreciate it. Thank you!

  • friend forever


    A really great post. The title of the article made me interested and when I read you are a contemplative photographer, I was like ‘Wow! I have never heard of that. It sounds really awesome’. And, as I read your article, I came to know it was. Bless you for doing something so beautiful!
    I write. Do u have any tips or ideas how I might be a ‘contemplative’ writer? 🙂

    Happy New Year,
    Wishes and love <3

  • International Coaching News

    Wonderful post! “Learning to see with wonder” is, I believe, more productive and as someone who takes photos (almost) everywhere, it makes one appreciate the people and things around more.

  • Meg_elye

    I LOVE this! I can relate so much, it’s how I’ve tried to approach my photography as well. I conduct photography therapy groups with adults with mental illnesses; would you mind if I incorporate this into a project?

  • Sue

    I have recently decided to do this sort of thinking about it as trying to have an out of body experience when stressed. Your way of describing it is fantastic! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think it wil l help!

  • Kim Manley Ort

    Please do!

  • Kim Manley Ort

    Check out Jeffrey Davis at Tracking Wonder. Read poetry by Mary Oliver and David Whyte.

  • Kim Manley Ort

    That’s wonderful!

  • Kim Manley Ort

    You have me wanting to learn more about Kwai Chang Caine. What a wonderful grandmother you are.

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful! I enjoyed the visual references to your wonderful points/wisdom, made it all more clear and meaningful! 🙂 🙂 Thank you!

  • beautiful post. especially close to heart. photography has helped me see the world differently too, for that I am very appreciative. “it’s not the things you see but the view you take of them” has long been my outlook. taking judgement breaks is my struggle, expectations are my nemesis. thank you for sharing your story.

  • Yes, photography is a good way to recognize what we see.

  • Thank you very much for your article and thoughtful photos, Kim. With all the world swirling about us in such seemingly frenzied motion, my best contribution to The Cause is to be calm and centered, active-not reactive. Maybe old, maybe trite, but that adage “Put yourself in another’s shoes” is helpful. I don’t know why the bus driver’s being brusque but it’s NOT going to be because of me. Perhaps the cashier’s angry about something/-one, but it won’t be me; in fact, for these very occasions, I’ve amassed a stash of one-liners designed to be pleasantly humorous. My reward: sensing the ease of tension within the recipient of my jokes. My job: be pleasant, kind and compassionate to all. How could I do less than that? Besides costing me nothing, I am repaid many times over. Who doesn’t like something for free? btw, I’m not always a happy, nice person (who is?) but it’s not for others to know/see/hear. Sometimes sharing isn’t caring. My attitude most likely stems from my B+ blood-will always Be Positive. One last thought: Begin as you mean to continue.

  • Khurty

    I love your honesty and genuineness; so very refreshing. You seem to be someone I would enjoy having as a friend. 🙂 Thank you so much for this reminder.

  • petite dancer

    These past few months have been wrought with struggles of emotion and internal battles, and through speaking with my first therapist and in my own research I’ve found this approach to be more than helpful. To see it neatly placed into words and photographs solidifies it in my brain. Thank you for sharing.

  • Karen

    Kim, I loved this posting so much that I blogged about it!