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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.


  • Daleen

    Helpful for gardening too! Take pictures at gull bloom or growth, reduce size and print. Encloce is heavyduty ziplock bags or even laminate. Hot glue onto a stake ot tie onto a tree or bush with elastic string. Also, take/find pictures in calalogs or at the nurshery of what that baby plant will be and look like, to do the same thing. You can even print out care instructions. I have pictures of my plant/tree/shrub wish list- many taken in neighborhoods I visit.
    Picture records are great if you keep a gardening journal, or is you lose a plant stake.

  • LindaM

    Having tried many of these great ideas, may I also add a couple more. I take pics of recipes or other articles of interest in magazines read while in an office. Occasionally I go antique glass shopping and take along pics of what I already own so I don't buy duplicates. Before giving away items to the local charity, snap pics of items to place along with your tax receipt for accurate info. And one of my best uses was to take shots of my grown children's school and athletic awards and trophies while letting go of storing all these items.

  • Nancy

    Many people have difficulty letting go of items their late parents/family had, even though they don't have enough room to store these items and have no use for them. Taking photos of the items and making a scrapbook of memories frees them to give some of these old items away and their house from becoming a hoarder's hotel! As a teacher I would take photos of my bulletin boards and room arrangements as well as special projects the students did to remind me of what worked for following years.

  • Glen Davis

    Thanks for the idea's.
    I often use mine for reading data plate on equipment that is not easy to get to.
    I hold camera over tag and snap.
    Then zoom in on image to read data,or store for future reference.

  • Johnny B.

    When I buy a lot of frozen dinners and put them in my freezer that’s in the garage, I always take a snapshot of what’s in the freezer. That way I don’t have to go there and open the freezer door and wonder what’s in there or which one do I feel like eating.

  • Paul Keen

    I started using a digital camera in 2002, and have found it to be an incredible "memory" for any type of old or odd thing that I suspect I won't remember. However, 3 things readily come to mind.

    Working for an automobile insurance company, I'm frequently taking pictures of vehicles' interior layout/under-hood labels/tires and their sizes/warning or information labels, including the Vehicle Identification Number. I don't know how many times my boss or other co-workers have wanted information about "What was on this car?" or "Do you remember what size tires were on the car we tested at the track?", or "I don't think the vehicle (with this trim level) had that option, but I could be wrong." Often times, it has solved problems where getting the exact vehicle back in our possession would have been excessively time restrictive or physically impossible (it was last year's model, and the manufacturer's representative doesn't have access to that vehicle anymore).

    The second thing that comes to mind was on a camping trip where I took several relatively large telescopes and all their miscellaneous accessories (tripods/mounts/counter-balance weights, plus eyepiece cases), and combined it with all of my camping gear, then stuffed it into the trunk and back seat of a 2000 Kia Sephia. Once I got the car all loaded, and only had room for myself as the driver (I was camping alone), I realized there would be no way to repack the car once the camping trip was over and I had to try to repack the car to get everything back into for the return trip home. Taking a number of close-enough images to see "what went where", and "what was it I fit into that tiny space in the corner of the trunk" saved the day, as all I had to do was review the previously-shot images to see "Oh, yeah, the tripod legs went into the trunk first, then the tent and stakes". Wow, what a lifesaver, and if nothing else, I only had to load the car once!

    The most-recent use I've had with my camera was to document the building of a dog house out of recycled (Craigslist) wood. Once I was finished, I proudly sent the final product's image to my daughter in the Seattle area for her approval. What neat fun you can have with a digital camera!

    And, perhaps the BEST use (that I've found), is the instant review (and satisfaction/gratification) to see if you got what you wanted in the image. No more of the old, "wait for an hour (or 3 days) to see your prints", only to be disappointed to find out the images did not turn out! This is especially true when doing astrophotography through a telescope!

  • Paula

    So many helpful uses!! Genealogy is my "thing". When relatives have photos that I would like to have, I take photos of their photos. I also use the camera instead of a photocopier for copies of birth, marriage, and death records, newspaper articles, obits, and any other documents, as well as tombstones, homes, churches, etc. I can then just copy/paste into my genealogy program.

  • Julie

    I have used my camera during DIY projects when I can't "see" around a corner or in a dark place. I couldn't see how the kickplate was attached to the dishwasher; set the camera on the floor behind it to reveal it was screwed on one side and snap clipped on the other. A photo in a dark area of a crawlspace revealed where wires ran and whether there were gaps in the insulation around them. Always great idea to keep a photo of pets/kids in your current chip as you travel with them.

  • Marce

    An additional and VERY easy use as a "stand in scanner": I take pics of all my old photographs and store them on my hard drive (you can use an external hard drive if you have lots). Not only does this save them from any deterioration due to time and/or elements, it also facilitates sharing with friends and family by email or social network. The quality is excellent (I think it's much better than your standard home scanner) and the cost is FREE! All you need to do is crop to within the original photo's boarders, and be careful of flash glare (use a soft flash at an angle if necessary).

  • MattG

    I am a aircraft inspector and there I times I can't get a mirror and flashlight into a area I need to inspect, or I need a better view. I have taken a photo of my inspection mirror with the question area in the mirror and then examined it on my laptop. I can take a area the size of a button and expand it to fill my whole screen. No more questions as to what I am seeing.

  • Kristen

    Out hiking in unfamiliar territory... use your camera to remember the route. Also, if you don't want to carry that survival book, take snap shots of key pages in your survivial book of edible plants, shelter ideas , trail maps etc. before you head out. Always remember your batteries. :0)

  • Coop

    Might not be a common use for many people, but where we used to live we had a LOT of snakes - many different types. Some we knew right away to be venomous or non-venomous, but others we had no idea. A quick digital photo e-mailed to the local wildlife folks always got us a definitive answer - so we'd know what we were dealing with! Have done the same thing to ID plants, too.

  • Rick

    The IRS now requires receipts and documentation for all contributions of any amount including non-cash contributions to Goodwill, etc. Take pictures of your contributions, print out thumbnail prints and attach it to your receipt from Goodwill. This provides excellent documentation and helps with putting a value on the items at tax time.

  • Rik

    Loved the ideas. One more tip to add. I read a fantastic article about adding some photos to each of your memory cards with your contact information so that if you lose your camera, it will be returned. The author was quite artsy and created a clever picture story to pull at the heart strings and to help insure the camera makes it back. At the very least, we should all take a picture of our contact information so it has a chance of being returned. Here's a link to the clever article:

  • Rik

    Here's a direct link to the article:

    I should have used the direct link the first time. Sorry.

  • Captain America

    I have used mine to copy the name plate of refrigeration equipment when there was only enough access to squeeze my arm in. Model an serial numbers, etc., were as plain as day.

  • Ann

    When traveling I use my camera to take a picture of our rental car and a close up of the license plate. It is especially useful when you travel to different cities on one trip and have three or four rental cars and start to forget what the current car is you're driving. The idea on taking a picture of your luggage when traveling is great and so is taking a picture of the name of your hotel when you're in a foreign country.

  • Wilde Childe

    When I updated from my learner camera to an expensive SLR model, I put the cheaper one in the car for any possible need. It has come in handy more then once...interesting pictures, accidents, suspicious persons and best of all license of a car that almost ran me off the road and its driver as well. The last two I printed off and gave to the police when I filed my complaint and they caught the guy that for some unknon reason was having fun that day trying to run old ladies off the road, I was not the only one.

  • Frank

    My car battery was going dead. Set the camera to video, put it in the trunk and closed it. In playback I saw trunk light was not going out when trunk was closed.

  • Sprinkle Cookie

    I take pictures of license plates of cars or trucks parked in handicapped parking spaces. I don't use the pictures for anything. I just like scaring the be-Jesus out of people who think it's okay to park there. (Especially landscaping trucks with trailers that park three across. Even better if there's a business logo on the truck or side of the trailer. :)


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