Remember Where You Parked Your Car and More: 35 Practical Uses of a Digital Camera


Creativity, frugality, and, on occasion, desperation can inspire innovative uses of the digital camera. For example, if you have trouble remembering where you parked your car, especially when you are traveling to unfamiliar places, take a photo of the car in its space and the location signs, both emergency-preparedness expert Ana-Marie Jones and world traveler-educator-blogger Myscha Theriault tell me.

Whether it is a standalone device or part of a smartphone or PDA, don't leave home without it. Here are 35 ways to be more productive, have fun, and save money with your digital camera.


DIY Projects

  • Explain a DIY problem to the folks at your favorite home improvement center for remodeling or repair projects. You can use images to explain your situation, accompanied with discussions of what you’ve tried and parts you’ve been using. (When John Chamberlin was having difficulties getting his new kitchen sink aligned with the existing drain connection, he took photos of his project to the plumbing specialist at The Home Depot, who then told him what connections, elbows, etc. to buy.)
  • Overhaul equipment despite nonexistent or poorly written manuals. Capture images of the entire piece as well as details of gears, systems, and parts prior to making any changes or disassembling for repair and renovation. Use photos during reassembly.
  • Gary Strawn, a Kona coffee farmer in Hawaii, said that his digital camera, along with the Internet, helped him set up new coffee processing equipment. Though he had spoken with several electricians, conducted his own research, and consulted with the distributor of electrical systems, he still had questions about its wiring. So he posted photos of the electrical control box and asked for help. The electrician father of a friend (who happened to have experience with industrial equipment) came to his rescue, giving him the answers he needed.

Sources: John Chamberlin of All-Pak, Inc., Harry Liebman of Candy Torahs, Gary Strawn of Kona Earth


Office Productivity

  • Capture program or system settings with digital photos before making changes recommended by tech support or online guides. You can go back to your original set-up if the advice doesn't solve your problem.
  • Avoid losing work completely if the computer locks up by taking a screen shot using the digital camera; you may have to do some retyping or data entry but you'll have saved critical information.
  • Save meeting notes on white boards, and send electronic versions of notes via email. (Cliff Langston says, “More than once this has saved massive stress (usually mine) when an over-zealous cleaning crew overlooked our huge ‘DO NOT ERASE’ instructions!”)
  • Lorena Prime recently used her digital camera to help a client, who had struggled to repair a copier for several weeks. Lorena took photos of the outside of the machine and inside where the malfunction seemed to be occurring, and then emailed the photos to a parts store. Within 10 minutes, the store staff identified and placed an order for the part. Next, Lorena hired a local fix-it person who was able to complete the project.

Sources: Dave Paradi of, Cliff Langston of Leads To Sales, and Lorena Prime of Clearly Organized


Emergency preparedness

  • Catalog your belongings including your home, cars, and pets; be sure to capture images of you (and your loved ones) in your home. You’ll have evidence that your home, family, animals, and things belong to you, which can be helpful if you have to evacuate an area, file insurance claims, or make missing-person or lost-pet reports.
  • Document your medications with instructions by taking photos of labels and demonstrate the proper way to work with whatever medical conditions or physical limitations you may have by taking a series of pictures for demo purposes, which can help you get appropriate medical care.
  • Keep recent photos of your family members on your camera phone (if you have one) so that if you get separated during an emergency or while traveling, you can show other people who you are searching for and quickly get a photo to authorities if necessary.

Source: Ana-Marie Jones of CARD (Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters)

Ana-Marie recommends "storing pictures in several ways (depending on your tech-talents and zeal), including online photo-sharing sites, social media sites, backed up on your hard drive, other people's homes, safe deposit box, etc."



  • Get around a new city or area by taking photos of the public transportation schedules (often displayed on signs but not available in print form) and maps of archeological sites, hiking trails, amusement parks, etc.

  • Organize pictures while traveling by capturing images of signs with the names of cities or sites being explored (if there is no sign, then write a note and take a photo of the note) to serve as a divider of photos.
  • Show your spouse that you did unplug the coffee pot, toaster, and any other devices with a dated digital image so you don’t have to go back home and check to make sure.
  • Avoid getting ripped off, resolve confusion, and give evidence of ownership by snapping photos of nearly everything such as your travel companions, the things you buy, and your luggage.

Sources: Ana-Marie Jones of CARD (Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters) and Tanya Graw



  • Make holiday cards, invitations, and note cards using photos of family members, party honorees, or picturesque scenes.
  • Watch your baby grow or the seasons change by taking a picture of the same person or scenery each day for 365 days; assemble them into a progam such as iMovie and play back at a rapid pace.
  • Create a photo treasure hunt game to entertain guests at children’s parties. For example, start with a picture of the water tank. At the water tank, place a picture of the top of the avocado tree. Up in the tree, place a picture of the chicken coop, and so on.

Sources: Chris Corradino of Chris Corradino Photography and Gary Strawn of Kona Earth



  • Share decision making for purchases by snapping photos of items you see in stores but want to show someone and come to a mutual agreement before buying.

  • Make a garden wish list by getting images of plants in bloom (with name and price) for easier selection during next year’s pre-bloom shopping trip for yourself or the garden club. In the meantime, research details about growing requirements and conditions to make sure that you’ll be able to get good results with the plants.
  • Comparison shop for big-ticket items, such as furniture, by snapping pictures from several views with prices and descriptions. Look at images while planning space in your home or office to pick your favorite, most functional, and color-compatible piece.

Sources: Willi Rudowsky of The Poynter Institute, News University, Deborah Graham, Lily Chern of Pure Chocolate Living, and Myscha Theriault of Wise Bread



  • Remember the name and contact information of selling agents by taking photos of signs on properties for sale.
  • Show your roommate how a new place will look by making photos and videos.
  • Record thoughts about new apartments using Notes & Photos, a new iPhone application that ties in the MyNewPlace database with your reaction to specific properties.

direct link

  • Prepare for a move by documenting all the large and/or valuable items you are moving. Be ready to reassemble items by recording current set-ups (for example, photograph the backs of all the pieces in a media system with cables and wiring attached).
  • Create space plans. Start with graph paper to sketch dimensions of space and furniture. Rather than creating multiple sketches after you’ve determined the best placement of furniture, take photos of various layouts to see all of your options.

Sources: Willi Rudowsky of The Poynter Institute, News University, Jonathan (Jasper) Sherman-Presser of MyNewPlace, Janet Barclay of Organized Assistant, and Jenny Cheifetz of The Sugar Mommy


Dispute Resolution

  • Tell your side of the story and be much more convincing with visual images.
  • Gather and transmit information about vehicle accidents for use in filing insurance claims and identifying those involved in accidents. Nationwide Insurance has a Mobile Ap for the iPhone that can help speed up the accident reporting, emergency services notification, claims filing, and vehicle repair processes.

Sources: Willi Rudowsky of The Poynter Institute, News University, Gary Strawn of Kona Earth, and Myscha Theriault of Wise Bread


Business Promotions

  • Make a promotional video. James of Terressentials told me that he used a Canon A650IS, set on movie mode with resolution of 640 x 480 to create this video. He shot scenes that filled the camera's 4GB SD card to capacity, offloaded footage to his computer, cleared the card, and shot more footage. To stabilize the camera and minimize minor movements, he attached a tripod to the camera and let the tripod dangle from the bottom of the camera. His company used Audacity (open source software) for recording and mixing the audio tracks, which were prepared in-house before shooting the video on the company’s grounds.

Direct link

  • Show normal appearance of products (including variations of normal) to help prevent unnecessary, costly returns. Educating customers, prior to shipment rather than after a concern arises, builds goodwill among customers. (See Gary's explanation regarding the standard and shrink-wrapped looks associated with shipping coffee through the mail).
  • Give precise directions when traditional signs are unavailable, confusing, or inconsistent with road maps or web-generated directions. Add tips right on the photos or as captions. Photo directions are especially useful for tourists who may be renting a hideaway cabin or trying to find an access point for a trail on an outdoor adventure.
  • Visualize designs for potential customers. Show before and after results of redesigns to convince customers that items (such as furniture) can be recycled and renewed.

Sources: James of Terressentials, Debbi Somers of Somers Furniture, Willi Rudowsky of The Poynter Institute, News University, and Gary Strawn of Kona Earth



Julie Swanson, the parent of a child with a disability and a disability specialist, often communicates with non-readers through use of visual images (created with her digital camera) rather than written language. For example, she creates chore charts that depict individual chores in the order that they need to be completed, describes a drawer's contents with a photo of items outside of the drawer, and documents and displays appropriate behavior in a variety of social settings.

She also creates recipe rings, which provide step-by-step instructions for making a recipe; her ring cover shows the completed recipe and the individual rings show each step beginning with the ingredients.

Source: Julie Swanson of Your Special

As for me, my camera helped me to understand how to place my bike on my new bike rack. The rack has a bunch of movable parts and I could never remember exactly how to use them. So, after I got the bike serviced and the shop's owner kindly and properly positioned it on its rack for me, I snapped a photo of the set-up. After referring to the image a few times, I finally understood the logic behind the arrangement.

If you have practical uses for your camera, share then in the comments.

Additional photo credits: Gary Strawn, Tom Page, Julie Swanson

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Guest's picture
Jamie G

Consumerist blog suggested that you take a picture of your mail-in rebates to show that forms were filled out correctly and the receipt was included, along with any other requests for proper refund application. I thought it was a good idea!

Guest's picture

Great uses, Julie!

As a full-time traveler, I have found my beloved digital camera useful in a number of ways (beyond taking pretty pictures):

1) I use it as a backup of official documents, such as passports and identification. That way if it goes missing, I have somewhere to start. Sometimes I also need to provide a copy of my driver's license for example, and all I have to do is print out the picture.

2) It makes a great alternative to a scanner. I had to fill out an application for insurance not so long ago, and I was able to take photos of each page and email them in, instead of scanning and emailing them.

3) And as Jamie G indicated above, taking a picture of a document you mail in (for example for a rebate, or anything else that you might like to retain a copy of without wasting paper), is a great use of a digital camera too. I have done this many times.

Guest's picture

I want to amplify the parking comments for vacations. This is a critical step in places like Disney World due to the vastness of the parking and the blur of a busy vacation. It would also apply to airport parking, since you could be away from your vehicle for days. Also, be sure to get your license plate in the pic--the Unofficial Guide notes that there are a whole lot of similar-looking white cars rented in Orlando (and probably other places, too).
One thing we did learn, though--it's a real drag digging back through the pics to find that one of the car. Our solution was to use my cell phone's camera for the car location, and our regular cam for everything else.

Myscha Theriault's picture

This is a phenomenal post, Julie! I especially loved the organic rap video. Those ladies look like they had a ball making it. Thanks for the link too, by the way.


Check out my various projects and services at Itinerant Tightwad. I also have a monthly education newsletter.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the shout-out about the MyNewPlace apartment search iPhone app!

The app itself is called MyNewPlace--you can find it in the iPhone app store by searching for "MyNewPlace"--and you'll find the Notes & Photos feature on each property's listing page.

Guest's picture

I loved this post. Very creative!

Guest's picture

So we're not the only ones! My husband and I have done many "FTR" (for the record) pictures:

hiking trail maps, many misc. signs

recipes (when you're at someone's house and want the recipe but don't have time to copy it down)

broken equipment (can't very well haul a freezer back to Sears to show that it is damaged, but you can take a picture...they ended up not needing to see it anyway and thought it was funny that I offered to show it to them)

a stack of maternity clothes I borrowed from someone so I know which ones are hers, etc.

Guest's picture

Take a photo of your kids when you go to a busy place. If they go missing you have a current photo of them and can show exactly what they were wearing.

Guest's picture

I used my cell phone camera to take pictures of our rental house when we moved out. After I power cleaned each room I took pictures of it to prove I properly cleaned it so we could get our deposit back.

Years ago I had an apartment landlord keep part of my deposit for an uncleaned oven that I had power cleaned before I moved out. I had no way to dispute it, it was her word against mine.

Guest's picture

can get you asked to leave.
you need to use a cell phone or a smallish camera and be surreptitious. walking around noticeable shooting images will get you banned - perhaps even accosted by security

Guest's picture

Believing there ARE honest people in the world, I leave a photo of my business card on my camera as the first image. On the card I’ve written “This camera belongs to” and, if I’m traveling,I add “I can be reached locally at the (hotel); please call my cell if found.”

While I haven’t lost my camera yet, I’ve at least given an honest person the ability to return my camera to me.

If this ever works for you, confirm my faith in people by dropping me a line.

Guest's picture

which relatively cheap camera can does all this job? sadly my hp camera can't get a clear picture out of the documents with its mere 2 m.p

Julie Rains's picture

I think it would be reasonable to let a sales associate, store owner, or manager that you are interested in a piece but want to snap photos of high-dollar items -- at least that would be the approach I'd take.

And being able to bring in photos of parts to DIY stores rather than bringing in items (which could seem as if you took the parts of the shelves and then removed their tags) could save you some trouble from security -- though I have heard the recommendation to take items to the customer service desk first to show that you are bringing items in rather than taking them out.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks everyone for your ideas! A couple of great uses I meant to mention before:

Making passport photos

Conquering clutter -- (comment #7) -- take photos of kids artwork to preserve memories but then toss the original (there are a few things I like to keep but you can't keep everything)



Guest's picture

I'm a personal chef, and i take photos of my clients' fridge and pantry to remember what staples they have on hand, and their preferred brands (Was it the Smiths or the Joneses who had all that quinoa? And who prefers that I buy no-salt-added stuff?) Sure i could take notes, but they seem to be impressed by my 'photograpic' memory when i call them to plan menus!

I like to snap photos of the ISBN of friends' books so i can find them online and buy them, or find them at the library.

I take pix of the tail-end of my rental cars, including the make, model, license/tag (and color!) because i always forget what i got

I keep my shopping list on a whiteboard, and before i go out, i snap a photo of the list so i don't have to re-write everything

... and add my plus-one vote for @lucille, and the "i DID clean this apartment before i moved out" photos!

If you like my suggestions, please do me a favor and look at my blog link. xoxoxo joanna

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