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Canon digital camera, source: Flickr

Good for more than snapshots! Photo: Vibrant Spirit, Flickr

My husband was walking an underground tunnel in Jerusalem a couple years ago when his flashlight died. Thanks to the LCD screen on his digital camera, he was able to get enough light to see where he was going and find the exit.

Yep, just like cell phones, digital cameras are handy little gadgets to have on you. They're definitely not just for taking family snapshots anymore! Let's explore some of the ways they can help out in a pinch:

1. Flashlight. As I've just noted, digital cameras make a pretty decent light source when you get stuck.

2. Insurance record backup. Take photos of each room of your home, with close-ups of individual items. In the event of a theft (or a worse catastrophe such as a house fire), those digital files might be invaluable for detailing what you lost. Just keep a backup in another location!

3. Stand-in scanner. Take photos of important documents such as birth and marriage certificates, driver's licenses, health insurance cards, credit cards and debit cards. Store your pics in a safe location along with your insurance records. Who needs a separate scanner?

4. Mini license plate. Take a shot of your vehicle's license plate. Print it and trim to fit in your wallet. What a clever way to keep your tag number handy! You'll never have to traipse out to the car again.

5. Original art. Your photos can be altered and edited for artistic effect to produce unique pieces of art. Play around with Photoshop. Have fun. Maybe you'll end up with something frame-worthy.

6. Travel mirror. Now here's a clever one: let your camera be your travel mirror when you're camping or staying at a hostel. Check out your reflection in the camera's LCD screen when the camera is off, or take a snapshot of yourself and review for bad hair, parsley in teeth, etc.

7. Clock. More than once I've forgotten both my cell phone and my watch ... and been saved by my camera. Click through the settings, and most likely you will find the correct time and date.

8. Passport and business card photos. Take your own photo. It's free! Just make sure to use a very well-lit location with a neutral background.

9. Clip art. Be your own free stock photo source. If you own an even halfway decent digital camera you're good to go. Use shots for presentations, blog posts and tons of other uses.

10. Record business meetings. That built-in video camera can be used for more than just birthday parties. Use it to document work events or meetings, for example.

11. How-to records. Working on anything painstaking that you might want to recreate down the line? Take photos to help you remember just how you achieved that magical effect with a Christmas tree or Thanksgiving table setting.

12. Similarly, take step-by-step shots of anything you dismantle that contains many parts. If you get confused during the reassembly phase, just refer to the photos for a reminder of what goes where.

13. Parking lot SOS. Do you invariably forget where you parked your car in those huge public lots? Take a snapshot of the location and level number just in case you get lost on the way back. It might save you a ton of walking.

14. House buying/renting. It's hard to keep track of the details when your agent has taken you to view several houses in one day. Take snapshots of each one to compare and discuss later. Same goes when shopping for other large purchases, like furniture.

15. Once you've agreed to buy or rent a property, there's usually a delay before you can actually move in. In the interim, those snaps will be a huge help as you visualize where to put your furniture and which rooms need repainting.

16. In a car crash? If you're able, take pictures of all the vehicles involved just in case of an insurance dispute later.

17. Subway or stadium map. Take one good photo of the entire map. You can refer to it again and again, zooming in and out as needed.

18. Before checking your suitcases at the airport, take a photo. You never know, it may help the relocation effort if they go walk-about due to mishandling.

19. Hotel or hostel name difficult to pronounce? Take a picture of the building and maybe the nearby street signs. If you're in a foreign country, it might be easier to show your taxi driver a photo of your hotel rather than trying to pronounce the name and location.

20. Traveling with kids? Take a snapshot of your child each morning once they're dressed for the day. If you get separated, the photo will be invaluable for showing to passersby or the authorities.

21. Avoid rental car scams. Take extensive photos of any rental car before you've driven it. Use the date/time stamp on your camera, too.

22. Photocopy fliers. Forget trying to remember all the details of that concert or yard sale. Just take a snapshot for later.


  • Bill Volk

    Diane -- great ideas, all.

  • Diane Rixon


  • Joel

    CCDs in cameras are sensitive to infrared wavelengths, so you can check if your TV remote is working by pointing a camera (or your phone's camera) at the business end and press some buttons. It will appear on the camera's screen as a visible light.

  • Diane Rixon

    What a great idea. Thanks!!

  • kaymiles

    Joel, what if your digital camera shows the TV remote is working, but the remote still has no effect on the TV? Do you know how to fix the problem?

  • Rob O.

    Another sneaky use - new glasses shopping.

    If you're like me, you can't see quite well enough without your glasses to get a clear idea of how new frames look on you. This makes it tough if you're shopping for new glasses solo.

    Ask the sales clerk snap a couple of pictures (1 straight on & 1 profile) of each of the frames that you think you like, then review the photos at home - with your glasses on. You can even email out the finalists to get 2nd opinions.

    Tip: Make a note of the frame names & models in the order that you take the photos so they’ll be easier to find when you go back to buy them.

  • Diane Rixon

    Brilliant!!!! I have struggled with the exact same problem for years. I'll remember your suggestion. Thank you!

  • Desiree

    I use mine when working on a complex project, especially on my car. I take pictures prior to taking everything apart, and that makes it easier to remember what came from where.

  • mel

    Great tips, and love the idea about glasses Rob O! I'll add a handy tip myself - if you don't have Photoshop, or even if you do, Paint.NET is a handy, powerful program and it's Free!

  • Steve Edwards

    You can't take your own passport photo's unless you meet strict size and color requirements. Other than that, some nice ideas

  • Amanda

    Very true- I just had to get my passport photo done and there are precise directions of where your face is in the frame, how the lighting is, etc.
    It can delay your passport by weeks to turn in a bad photo- the person who takes your information will not tell you if there is a problem, they'll just send it in and you'll find out when they send you a letter to mail proper photos halfway across the country!

  • Ddee

    All ideas good although seveal were fairly obvious and I would hope any person of aveage intelligence could think of what to do in those circumstances. eg: Photos of home items: I took photos of every room in our home in Ormond Beach, Fl (including closeup detail) years ago when the state had the massive fire emergency. However, I used my 35 mm camera, as digital cameras were not on the market yet! So, I think a few ideas are pretty much common sense.

    But yes its good to remind everyone now and again. :)

  • Lori Allen

    we had a problem w/ some DIY plumbing, so I took a picture of the set up under the sink, drew a "sketch" (I am not much of an artist) w/ the measurements and took it all to the local Lowe's. the guy in plumbing was able to see what we were replacing and got us set up w/ all the right things on the first trip.

  • kaymiles

    I've used many many these of tips. I would add taking photos of the contents of your luggage. I would also add tkaing photos of the serial numbers of those belongings that have them and have a wirten list as well. Take photos of your pets that can be used as identification, especially photos of special markings on the face and body. My pet sitter requires this. I use my cellphone camera to take photos of clothing design or embellishment ideas I want to remember, I used to make sketches, but could never figure out the sketches later. Also, photos of finished projects ( i.e. costumes, props, sets you've designed, cakes you've decorated, jewelry you've made, etc.) are great for your portfolio. Oh, the many and wondrous uses for a camera!!

  • grace

    last weekend I my 4-yr-old grandson did not like the taste of the cough medicine I wanted him to take. He made a awful face when he tasted it. I commented on the funny face and grabbed my camera. He easily took the medicine every time thereafter because he enjoyed looking at the funny face pictures I'd taken.

  • Mary Edwards

    When you are out shopping for something i.e. a piece of furniture, etc. you may snap a pic of the different ones you look at and add the store name by numbering or actually capturing the store name. That way when you are trying to remember which piece was where you can readily recall.

  • Kristina

    This might sound silly but way back when I was young and just starting out in the business world...I would go shopping for seperates to go with suits or skirts and invariably as soon as I got to the stores, I'd forget what I had in my closet I took a polaroid of my closet with everything hanging and snapped some out on my bed so I could see colors and patterns. That way I could match up basics and shoes and accessories.

  • Victoria

    Thank you all for the very useful tips!!!

  • Melani

    Whenever we are setting up something electronic we take a picture of it so we remember how it was set up for future reference - like the cable TV -TV- DVD player - the old VCR recorder - Who remembers where all the wires were connected to into which spot in a hurry. Not everyone remembered to painted the wires with nail polish or color coded it with colored tape the first time around. Another thing I do if I'm going shopping - take a picture of the inside of the refrigerator door, the panty area so I can refer to it if I really need something at the store when I'm out shopping for supplies. That saves calling home and asking someone to look for me while I stand in the store and have to endure the stares of other people while I carry on personal conversations about about how toilet tissue is left or is there enough milk for tomorrow?

  • Garick

    Excellent ideas Diane! It's all common sense stuff, but just the's things that I hadn't thought of.


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