We’ve all had that terrifying moment when you go to look for an image file, only to discover that it wasn’t where you thought it was. After hours of searching through all of your folders, you finally have to conclude that you deleted it by accident. Or it may be the case that your memory card has become corrupted, your computer crashed, or had a fault that wiped off all of the files. So what do you do now? Here’s a list of steps to take to get that photo back.
Check the bin
The first thing you will want to do is to look at the recycle bin, or the equivalent on your system. This is where files go if you have deleted them directly from your computer. If you have not emptied the recycle bin for a while, then you will be able to use this as a source for any deleted files. When you find them, just restore them to your computer and you will be able to access them just as before. Be aware that when you empty the recycle bin, all the files are gone forever. It might be good for cutting down on your memory space, but it does run the risk of losing something that you didn’t want to say goodbye to. Bear this in mind the next time that you go to clear it out.
Check your back-ups
If you ever back things up onto cloud storage solutions, then you have a good chance of being able to recover something even if it has been deleted. This is because cloud storage normally uses several back-ups, meaning that the files you delete are not totally gone immediately. You might be able to restore them back into your cloud storage, and from there download them to your computer. In DropBox, for example, you will see a little icon of a garbage can: click on this to see the files that you have deleted recently.
If you have deleted the files from a memory stick or card, then now is the time to stop doing anything else with them. Don’t take any more pictures, and don’t try to write something new to the card or delete something else from it. This can overwrite the small amount of memory dedicated to hanging on to those old images, which is not what you want. If you aren’t sure which card or stick you used, then stop using all of them until you can try recovering the files.
If you haven’t been able to recover your files from these two methods, then you are going to need some recovery software. Bear in mind that when you delete something from a memory card or USB stick, even if it is plugged into your computer, this normally does not send it to the recycle bin. This is why the dialogue box that pops up tells you that you will be deleting the file forever. But if you have done it by accident, don’t worry just yet. You might still be able to get it back.
There are multiple programs out there that you will be able to use to recover deleted photos, and some of them even come with your camera or another software purchase. Some memory card manufacturers even have their own software, such as Lexar or SanDisk. But for the sake of giving you a free option to try, you can consider Recuva if you are on a PC or PhotoRec if you are on Mac. Neither of these will cost you anything, but pay attention and make sure that you are downloading the correct version of each program rather than a fake.
Search for deleted files
The next stage is to use your software to search for those deleted files. Each one comes with instructions which you can easily follow in order to find your files. First, narrow down the search by telling them what to look for. Narrow it down to photo files and give them part of the name if you can remember it. If you are searching for a batch of images, you can potentially give them the first part of the name before the numbers. If you have already renamed the images to different things then you might have to throw a wider net.
Now find the root directory where you last saw the photos. If you aren’t sure, choose ‘My Computer’ or the equivalent option and search everywhere. If it was on a USB stick or memory card, you can plug these in to your computer in order to search their directories.
PhotoRec is a little more daunting to use than Recuva because it uses a command-line interface. Although it may look terrifying, it’s still simple enough to follow, so just do what the on-screen commands tell you in order to narrow down the search. When you run the scan, hopefully it will find your images and you will be able to restore them.
If you still haven’t found the images, then there is one last option available to you. Choose the advanced mode in Recuva to add different file types to the list, or use the FileOpts command in PhotoRec to add raw formats.
If the images are in good health, you will be able to recover them here. There is always a chance that they may have been corrupted, or that you might not be able to find them at all, especially if some time has passed. If this is the case, you might just have to suck it up and move on. Take this as a lesson that all files should be backed up as soon as you get them onto your computer – in duplicate if possible!
Have you ever lost images without being able to find them? Or have you successfully managed to recover photographs using a technique that is not in this list? If you have other tips to add, let us know in the comments!