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How to Recover Photos After a Data Loss

Frank Grießhammer

By Frank Grießhammer

One of the worst things that can happen to you as a photographer is data loss, but there are ways to resolve it. This guide will talk you through how to recovery those all-important photos easily and quickly.

Whether it’s a quick snap of your pet or a scenic landscape shot, chances are most of the photos you take are precious and important to you. Photos capture memories and moments; losing these would be disastrous. Sadly, photo loss is not an uncommon event. In fact, either it’s already happened to you in the past or it likely will in the future.

Losing your photos can occur for a variety of reasons, one of the most common being simply human error. It could be something simple like accidentally deleting the wrong file or pressing the wrong button. However, as wonderful as technology is, it too is prone to failure. There are many stories of people unloading their memory cards from their cameras, putting it on their computer and then finding their files can’t be opened or are missing altogether.

If you’ve discovered that you’re a victim of data loss then one of the most important steps to take is to stop using the card immediately, and remove it from your camera, just to make sure that no activity takes place on it. It’s crucial that no further data is written to the card.

Jorge Quinteros

By Jorge Quinteros

When a photo is deleted, the data on the card isn’t immediately purged. There are two main types of data on an SD card: information about the files on the card and the data for the files themselves. When you delete a file, it’s that information about the files that is removed. The data for the files remains on the card until the space is needed for another file. As such, a new photo on the card could be assigned to the place where a deleted photo once was, wiping it out permanently.

It’s now time to try and get your data back, so mount your SD card to your computer. Depending on the condition of the card (e.g. if it is corrupted or uses an unrecognizable file system), your system may automatically detect that there’s a fault with it. You might perhaps be suggested to use the manufacturer’s software to try and resolve the problem. Alternatively, a pop-up box could encourage you to format the card. Do not do any of this.

Bridget AMES

By Bridget AMES

Formatting the card is especially dangerous and will lower your chances of successful data recovery to sinking level. It’s a last resort tactic. Your computer means well by suggesting a card format. It’s essentially saying “Hey, I can’t seem to locate any data, shall we wipe everything and start afresh?” However, just because your operating system can’t find the data it doesn’t mean it isn’t there, lurking under the surface.

DO: stop using the card literally the moment you realize there’s a problem; remember to breathe and stay calm!

DONT’T: browse the photos on your camera, take ‘just one more’ snap, or format the card.

The next stage is to download a program that’s going to help you get your data back. For the purposes of this tutorial we’ll be using R-Undelete. There are other programs available, but this one is entirely free for home users and works really well. The only limitation is that it only works for FAT formatted SD cards—fortunately, practically all camera SD cards are FAT formatted. There are also some professional data recovery companies who will charge you to recover data, but frankly, in this circumstance, using something like R-Undelete will do the same job for none of the cost.

Step One

The first screen you’ll be presented with a list of all the drives mounted to your computer. All you need to do is place a tick in the checkbox next to your SD card and click ‘Next’.


As you can see, the example image above shows an internal drive, a DVD drive and an SD card. The SD card being used is called ‘Generic Storage Device’, but yours might have a more unique name. Refer to this or match up the size of your card to the ones listed (1.87 GB in the example).

Step Two

This step is a simple one. The program will automatically select a detailed scan for lost files, which is precisely what you want. You can ask for the program to only search for specific types of files (like videos or pictures) by clicking ‘Known File Types…’, but it’s better to leave it on the default setting to scan everything.


The scan information is going to be saved to Documents by default, but feel free to change that file path to whatever you wish by checking the box alongside. Remember that you must not save anything to the card that you’re recovering from, so it’s easiest to keep things on your internal drive.

When you’re ready, click ‘Next’ and the scan will begin.

Step Three


The scan will then begin. This screen might look a bit scary at first, but there’s no need to worry. It’s just a visual representation of the type of data that is being scanned. Just wait for the scan to finish (it’ll be quick, but will vary depending on the size of your card) and click ‘Next’ when that option is available.

Step Four

You’ll be presented with a list of all the data that the program has found on the card. On the left are the folders, which show the contents on the right when they are clicked.


The great thing is that you can sort the results by filters such as the file extension, the time the data was created, or when it was accessed. If you’re trying to hunt down specific files, then there’s also an advanced search tool where you can input variables to search for, like the size of the file or when it was last modified.

One symptom of data loss is that the original file name is often lost, so don’t worry if you don’t recognize any of the file names. If you’re not sure where the data you seek is, go ahead and recover everything the program has found – you can recover as much or as little data as you want without issue.

Once you’ve got the data you want to be recovered selected, click ‘Next’.

Step Five

Nearly there! First, select the folder where you want all your recovered data to go. Handily, the program reminds you not to choose anywhere on your SD card – but of course you know that by now!


There are also some advanced options available. The example above asks the program to try and recover the original folder structures, bear in mind however, this isn’t always possible. Providing you selected all the required files in step four, this should be the only option you might want to select.

Are you ready to get your pictures back? Click ‘Recover’ and the program will begin to work its magic. The time it takes will depend on how much data you’ve asked to be recovered, but the process is relatively quick.


R-Undelete successfully recovered every image that I asked it to and hopefully it performed the same way for you.

Try and remain calm throughout the whole process. Understandably, that’s probably easier said than done, but data recovery is entirely possible and if you follow the advice given then it should hopefully be pretty effective.

You may aware of how important it is to back up your files, but don’t actually practice it. If possible, ensure your photos are being consistently backed up to another location. Whether you’re just transferring them to your computer at the end of the day, or sending them to cloud storage services like Dropbox or OneDrive, having multiple copies of your photos will mean that it’s less of a problem if data loss does occur.

Best of luck and enjoy those recovered files!

Editor’s note: please be aware the software mentioned only works on a PC. Just do a google search for: photo recovery Mac free and you’ll find a whole bunch that work similarly to the one mentioned in this article.

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Joe Keeley
Joe Keeley

is a professional writer who specializes in the world of technology and data.

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