Recovering “Erased” Photos

Hopefully, you are all well-organized and have never gotten confused about which images on your memory card have been saved to your computer and which haven’t. In my case, I recently had a brain malfunction known as “brain flatulence” causing me to reformat a memory card containing about 1000 images I hadn’t uploaded yet.

It happened in a moment of distraction. I was checking to see how much space was left on the memory card in my camera in preparation for a shoot just to see if I needed to swap out the card before I started. I knew I hadn’t uploaded the images yet. I made several mistakes:

  1. I went to the format card menu to see how full the card is because it’s easier for me to see the big bar graph displayed on my LCD than the counter that tells you how many images you have room for. Putting on my reading glasses and looking at the counter would have been safer.
  2. I was sitting in my car waiting to meet someone with traffic zooming by and other distractions. In the moment when I should have selected “cancel,” a loud vehicle grabbed my attention.
  3. I use the format card menu every time I want to erase images. My muscle memory is to select “format card,” not to select “cancel”–I have to pay close attention when in the format card menu.

In the moment the loud vehicle captured my mind, my muscle memory took over and gone were all my images! Mind you, I had bushwacked through thick undergrowth, dragged myself through poison ivy, and braved the aerial version of a mine field walking under a heron rookery to get some of the images on that card. I was not a happy camper.

But, here’s the good news! When you delete images or format your card, no data is actually lost. Rather, the existing data is marked as eligible for being overwritten. This means that as long as you set that card aside and don’t write any photos on top of your “deleted” data, your images can easily be recovered with the right software.

The software I chose first was Lexar’s Image Recovery 4. My main reason for choosing this software was because it is a) available for a mac (and windows), and b) free because I own several Lexar memory cards. This software claims to work on all memory cards, but it was a Lexar card I used it with.

Unfortunately, Lexar does not have the best ordering process. You can download the trial version of the software for free, but you can only get a key by contacting support. Alternatively, you can pay $40 for their newest version, IR 5.

I recommend NOT scanning your memory card with the trial version–you can only restore one image. After I had successfully scanned my card and restored one image, I was stuck waiting for a license key. Support told me it could take up to 48 hours to get it. When I finally got the license key and rescanned the card, the software couldn’t find any images. Yes, I freaked.

Fortunately, support provided me with a key for IR5 because I had recently bought one of my Lexar cards. Once I had IR5, I had no trouble restoring all of the images. The interface is intuitive and although running the scan on a full 32GB card and restoring the images does take a significant amount of time to run, all I had to do was click a couple of buttons.

So, if you own a recent Lexar card, download the IR5 version and send support a request for a free license key (you will probably need to tell them what card you have that entitles you to the software). Wait to run the software until you receive the key and then you should have no problems.

If you don’t own a Lexar card, there are other software options out there. I was unable to find a reliable source I’m familiar with for reviews of these software options, so I went with Lexar. My logic was that they have a major stake in making sure I recover my photos successfully and they are a company I’ve already trusted with my images for many years. While they have logistics issues with giving out licenses, they were helpful and supportive, the software worked, and it didn’t cost me anything but time.

By the way, for iPhoneographers, I stumbled across software that is supposed to recover deleted data on the iPhone, including photos. I cannot vouch for the product, but here is a review on CNET: http://download.cnet.com/Data-Recovery-for-iPhone/3000-2242_4-75856767.html

2 thoughts on “Recovering “Erased” Photos

    1. Excellent! Thanks for adding that–good to know what other free apps people have gotten good results with. Unfortunately for those of us who use macs, it looks like only the Windows version is free while the $25 Professional version supports Macs.

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