PetaPixel

Recovering Lost Photographs

memorycardA few times in the past I’ve had to recover data from memory cards. Once it was a friend who accidentally reformatted the card and deleted hundreds of photographs from a recent vacation. Another time I accidentally deleted precious images from the memory card before I had backed them up. What I’ve learned though, is that in most cases, you can easily recover the data you fear was lost, even if you do something drastic such as reformat your card.

When you “delete” a photo from your memory card, it simply goes to that section of storage and marks it as “available” to be used again. The data of the original image is still there on your memory card, though the camera will not display it as an image. Thus, the most important thing you need to remember to do if you accidentally delete data is to stop using the memory card. This is because the only way for the data to truly become unrecoverable is if you delete it, then overwrite it with new data (or even blank data). Thus, to ensure that you can recover your deleted photo, you need to be sure to stop using your card immediately to ensure that nothing is written to that storage location on the card.

To do the actual recovery, you could take the card to a photography place and have a professional recover the data for you, but I’ve always relied on free software that can do the same thing. Here are some popular and free programs to try:

Most of the good, safe, and free programs available for recovering photos are available only for Windows users. PhotoRescue is a popular program for Mac users, but costs $29.

Finally, the fact that data is so easily recoverable means that you need to be careful when selling things like computers and memory cards. Simply “deleting” data will not prevent what was on the card to fall into the wrong hands. If you’re selling a memory card that contained data you don’t want others to possibly recover, then be sure to overwrite the card completely, or look online for a program that helps you safely delete data.