Digital photos become part of our everyday life. All of us take photos, some using a camera while others using mobile phones or other gadgets. I am sure that at least once each of us lost his or her photos due to accidental deletion, a memory card failure, or formatting a card (erasing all the photos). In this post I discuss what to do and what to avoid so that the chances to recover digital photos will be as high as possible.
1. Stop using a memory card
It is very important to stop using a memory card immediately once you realize that the card contains the photos you need to recover. With every new write to the card, most likely some part of the deleted data is overwritten. Video files are the most susceptible to this. A regular video file is larger than an image file and therefore the probability that new data will be written to one of the blocks where video file content is stored is higher than for a photo file.
Typically, memory cards use FAT filesystem. Due to specifics of FAT filesystem, it is impossible to recover fragmented files (where data blocks are written in different places rather than sequentially) from a FAT-formatted memory card. If you often modify the files (delete, edit or move them), your files certainly are fragmented and data recovery quality is not very good. The same applies if you work with an almost full memory card.
One more specific of FAT filesystem is that the first letter of the file name may be lost. It is not terrible, but search for the needed file among recovered files by name is inconvenient.
2. Stop using a camera immediately if you notice some unusual behavior
If in the first case it is clear that you deal with data loss (you deleted a file or formatted a memory card), in this case data loss is not that obvious. For example you notice that fresh photos are not shown on a display of the camera as it always was.
Unusual behavior of the device may be either the result of your incorrect actions (e.g. you confused shooting mode), or a developing failure. Anyway, you need to stop using a camera until you understand what’s wrong.
3. Use a card reader when recovering photos
Here you already realized data loss and now try to recover files. My advice is to use a card reader (built in your PC or a standalone one) since it provides high speed and better handles bad sectors. If you try to read a bad sector from the camera memory card directly via cable, data recovery software can just hang, requiring a full rescan.
Bonus – Do not rush to buy photo recovery software, consider the free options
There are a lot of paid and several free photo recovery tools. There are fully free tools like Recuva and PC Inspector and tools which allow to recover only media files for free, for example ZAR in a demo mode. Try several tools because they use different recovery algorithms and therefore may provide different result.
Written by Elena Pakhomova, a co-founder of ReclaiMe data recovery software company, specializing in photo recovery solutions from various storage devices.