How to recover deleted photos

A deleted photo, like all deleted files, doesn’t mean the photo is gone. It means the photo still exists on the device but the index to locate the photo has been deleted. Until the photo is overwritten through general use of the device , there is still a chance you may recover it. This is why the general advice is to always stop using a device immediately following a data loss.

If you have deleted some photos and now need to get them back, we suggest you follow these steps:

  • Stop using the device as you don’t want to overwrite the files
  • To find your deleted photos you will need to scan the entire disk
  • Try using a specialist recovery software such as Ontrack EasyRecovery (bonus: you can preview if the files are still available by downloading a free trial of the software)
  • For devices that may require specialist support, you may need to consult with data recovery experts, such as Ontrack

Recovering deleted digital photos is normally a fairly straightforward process and, unless you’ve continued to use the device and overwritten the files, your photos should be still on the hard drive and available for recovery.

It is critical to shut down the device completely as soon as you realise you need the photos back. If you have an SSD, the longer a device is left running, the higher chance the data will be zeroed out (this is due to the trim function) and you risk making the deletion permanent. If your device is HDD based, ongoing usage of the device will eventually overwrite the deleted files, also rendering the loss permanent.

The scanning software will recognise a signature of 8-10 characters that identifies the file type. The drive continues the scan and will then recognise the signature for the next file; this allows the software to identify all the data held between these two signatures as belonging to the same file and is then able to reconstruct the deleted file.

Digital photos can come in a variety of formats, including:

  • JPG
  • GIF
  • PNG
  • BMP
  • TIF
  • NEF
  • CR2
  • and many more

and can be stored in a wide array of devices, such as:

  • digital cameras
  • computers
  • hard drives
  • mobile phones
  • tablets
  • USB drives
  • SD cards
  • Flash media
  • And many more

No matter the file type or the device where it is stored, your photos should still be recoverable – provided they have not been overwritten.

Some situations that can further complicate the possible recovery are the use of:

  • The larger the memory the longer it will take to scan it. In some cases with particularly large drives, the scan may even take up to a few days to run through the entire drive
  • Encrypted files: without a key it will be impossible to access the files. In some cases the encryption is embedded directly into the hardware and the key is not accessible to the user

Remember: it is always best to have an up to date backup copy of your files so no matter what happens to your photos, you always have a reliable backup you can revert to when necessary.