Metal oxide semiconductors hold great promise for applications in energy conversion and storage, environmental remediation, optoelectronics, memory, light emission and other areas, but critical factors such as the high rate of charge-carrier recombination and limited light absorption have restricted more practical and viable applications. The remarkable ability of plasmonic noble metals to concentrate and scatter visible light has found a versatile potential in harvesting and converting solar energy. Plasmonic nanostructures of noble metals in combination with semiconductors offer a promising future for the next generation of energy needs. The overlap of the spectral range of the incident photon with absorbance wavelength of the semiconductor and the surface plasmon bands of the plasmonic metal provides a useful tool to predict the enhancement in optical and electrical properties of hybrid semiconductor-noble metal nanostructures. Here we make an attempt to comprehensively review the role of plasmonic noble metals in the enhanced functions for photocatalytic activity, photoenergy conversion in DSSCs, enhanced light emission and photochromatism. We mainly focus on the improvement of performance in TiO2 or ZnO in combination with noble metals on representative photophysical applications. The mechanism behind their interaction with light is discussed in detail in each section.