Recovering deleted photos from a Mac or PC: is there hope?

Imagine the following scenario: you’re a photographer editing some pictures for a client. You’re working off of an external hard drive, and because of a memory lapse, you overwrote the memory card that had the originals. Now, the only copy you have is the one on the external hard drive. No big deal, the hard drive is pretty new, you think. As you are finishing up the project, you decide to clear out an old folder on the drive. You delete it, and since it’s on an external hard drive, it doesn’t go to the Trash (if you’re on a Mac) or to the Recycle Bin (if you’re on the PC).


Disaster strikes! You deleted the wrong folder! All the photos are gone! You desperately start searching the drive to see if there’s copies in another folder, perhaps opening a few files to see what they are. Nope, they’re gone. This is bad. And you’ve just made it worse by opening files and possibly overwriting the data on the drive. You think you’re screwed.
…But are you, really?

If you’re using a Windows PC, there’s a great software called Recuva (Free for Non-Commercial use, $25 for professional version) that’s really, really good.

It has a very simple and easy to use wizard that will guide you through the process:

A scan will take a while:

But eventually you’ll be able to view the files (if they’re not destroyed beyond repair):

And then select the ones you want to recover:

Make sure you save the files on a device different than the one you’re recovering files from!

If, however, you’re on a Mac, there aren’t any user-friendly, free recovery software options available.

I’ve used PhotRec (from the creators of TestDisk) with great success in the past, but, as you can see from the following screenshot, the user interface is pretty much non-existent:

The one that has been the easiest to use, and has yielded the best results, is Stellar Phoenix Mac Data Recovery (free to try, $99 to recover files). Look at the following screenshots, it’s pretty easy to use!

Can’t get simpler than this:

Select the type of recovery:

Select the source:

Wait a while until you get to the preview screen:

Then tick the boxes of the files you want to recover:

Wait a little while, and it’s done!

As you can see, recovering accidentally deleted files on Windows and Mac OSX isn’t impossible, nor is an accidental deletion the end of the world!

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