Most photographers have been there. That sinking feeling you get when you put your memory card into the computer and realise, to your horror, that the precious images that were once there have disappeared.
Don't panic, because there are ways of recovering your images, by using a data or image recovery software to get them back. Here, we go through how to use them to recover your images and list a few of the best ones out there to do the job.
How does the software recover my lost images?
When you delete files, whether accidentally or otherwise, an imprint of them stays on the card. The space they once occupied is marked as usable for new files, but the imprint of the file will stay there until it is saved over. Images only become unrecoverable when they are saved over. It's important once you discover images are missing not to take more images on the same card until the images have been recovered, to minimise chance of them being over-written and lost forever.
How do I recover my images?
Generally speaking, once you've downloaded your chosen recovery software, you need to run it. You can then tell the software which kind of file you want it to look for to speed things up, so for example if it is JPEG images you have lost, you can tell the software to search for .jpeg images only.
You can also tell the software where to search, so in the case of deleted images from a memory card, you'll want to direct it to the drive where the card is inserted into your computer. This can be identified by going to Start, then selecting Computer on a Windows 7 or earlier machine, and by clicking the folder icon on the Windows explorer page on Windows 8.
When you've done this, you can then tell the software to start searching. It should then bring up a list of recoverable files. You can then check the ones you want to recover, and click the 'Restore' or equivalent button to recover your images.
Do I have to pay for recovery software?
The short answer is no, you don't have to. There are plenty of free recovery software options available, some of which are listed below. These will often be quite basic, but will do the job in hand. If you want extra features from your recovery software, then you may find a paid for 'pro' package to be more to your liking.
Can the software always recover my lost images?
Not always. Unfortunately, there are limitations, as mentioned above. If the images are overwritten, or saved over, before you attempt to recover them, then there may be no chance of getting them back.
How can I minimise my chances of losing images?
The main thing is to make sure you back up your images regularly to a PC and a hard drive. This will ensure that even if you lose the image in post production, you've always got the original to fall back on. By backing up regularly, you'll minimise the chances of images going astray or getting accidentally deleted on the memory card.
Also, make sure you take care of you card. Scratches, dropping the card, accidentally bending the card, or getting it wet if it's not weatherproof, can all result in images being lost, and render the card unreadable.
What recovery software is available?
There are several free recovery software programs on the market, all of which will do the job of recovering your files:
Often recommended by members on site, Recuva is simple to use, free, and able to recover files lost from your computer, recycle bin, digital camera card or MP3 player.
Remo recover is available in a basic free edition, or media and pro editions for a fee. It is also available for Mac, and does lots more then just recover your photos, it can even perform a complete hard drive recovery when the drive has crashed or won't boot.
PhotoRec is a powerful photo recovery program, but the read only format can be quite daunting to those not used to working with code. It's not the easiest of softwares to understand if you're a newcomer to computing, but it will do a good job of identifying your lost files.
ZAR stands for Zero Assumption Recovery and it is a great tool for all kinds of recovery. Luckily for photographers, there is a free version of ZAR recovery for digital pictures and digital camera memory. The site contains a handy how to guide for getting your images back, too.
PC Inspector Smart Recovery:
PC Inspector Smart Recovery is a data recovery program that can recover from flash cards, smart media, multimedia cards and secure digital cards and other data carriers for digital cameras. It claims to easily, quickly and reliably reconstruct lost data.
A simple search of the internet will enable you to find all of the above softwares and decide which one will be best for you.