How to recover deleted photos from your camera’s memory card

We’ve all done it. You’re flipping through your photos deleting all the crap ones (in my case, that’s most of them) to free up space on your memory card…

Click, delete. Click, delete. Click, delete.

“Shit! I didn’t mean to do that.”

It only takes a second or two for the panic to set in as you realise what you’ve just done.

Good news: your photos can be recovered

There’s a good chance you’ll be able to get your photos back — with one proviso. And that is, that you haven’t taken any more photos using that memory card.

Because when you delete a photo, your camera doesn’t actually destroy the file. It just treats that area of your memory card as free space. So that means it’s possible to recover your deleted photos.

What you’ll need to recover your photos

To get your photos back you will need a data recovery utility. I recommend Data Recovery Pro. You may also need a card reader if your camera doesn’t show up as a scannable drive when you start your recovery software. (You can pick up a USB card reader from any computer store or Amazon for a few quid/dollars.)

Fire up your data recovery software

I’m using Data Recovery Pro, but all the file recovery utilities I’ve tried work the same way, so these steps should be fairly universal.

The first thing to do is select the folder you want your photos recovered to. By default Data Recovery Pro uses the C:\Documents and Settings\Your Name\Desktop\Recovered Items folder.

It’s time to find your lost photos

OK, now go to your software’s main screen and uncheck all the drives apart from your memory card (you don’t want to sit there for an hour while it unnecessarily scans all of your computer’s drives). Now hit the Start Scan button and sit back while it searches for recoverable files. This shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

When the scan is complete you should see a list of the files that can be recovered. Data Recovery Pro includes a really useful file preview feature so you can see what photos you’re recovering (it’s a lot more helpful than _MG_0466.JPG, isn’t it?)

Data Recovery Pro - recoverable files

The above screenshot shows the results of scanning my digital camera’s CF card. (I should point out that I didn’t take those photos in 1979 — I just forgot set my camera’s date.)

If you’re in luck and you’ve found your deleted photos, check the boxes next to them and click the Recover button. And that’s it — you’re done. Your photos will now be safely stored in your chosen recovery folder. You can now copy them back onto your memory card using My Computer if you want to view them on your camera’s LCD screen again.

If your photos weren’t listed

If you continued to use your camera, or reformatted your memory card, it probably means the files have been overwritten with new photos or movies.

If you have an Olympus or Fuji camera that uses an xD card and you used your camera to reformat the card, then you’re out of luck because this process make the files unrecoverable.

You can recover more than just photos

Most data recovery utilities will recover dozens of file types from dozens of devices — they’re not just limited to digital cameras and memory cards. So next time you accidentally delete an email, Word document or MP3, stop what you’re doing and fire up Data Recovery Pro and get your files back.