There are two types of people in the world:
1. those who have at least once accidentally deleted photos from a camera or memory card, or
2. those who have been a victim when someone else deleted special footage from their camera or memory card.

If you do not fit into either of these two groups, eventually you will (or perhpas you just live isolated from all technology in the middle of the African desert. If that is the case, however, then this post will not interest you anyway).

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Well, exactly this just happened to me. We were leaving home late to go on a sailing adventure to Rottnest Island and I made the assumption (the very wrong assumption) that there weren’t any important files on our camera before I cleared it’s memory. Result? A whole lot of Michaela’s footage from Brazil was gone.

Losing some of the films from our trip to Brazil might not be that bad to me, but trust me… Michaela was mad. And to save our marriage I had to work out a way to fix it.

So I started my research soon after and it didn’t take me long to find hundreds of software that promised to recover what I had lost. However, a couple of hours later I was still trying to understand the third one and pulling my hair out when for the third time I was asked to buy a PRO version in order to recover the files I wanted.

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the value of data recovery software – some memories are priceless and we would pay anything to get them back. But why not try to do it for free first? At the end of the day, we are saving hard and every extra penny is important to us.

So this is how I did it…

It might look difficult, but don’t give up just yet

Before we even start please be aware that this is an effective, but very simple free piece of software. It does not have a fancy user interface and using it might look a bit scary in the beginning. However, I have tried to be as exhaustive as possible with my instructions and should you be patient you will be just fine.

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Step 1: Download PhotoRec

PhotoRec popup is a free software developed by CG Security and compatible with most Operating Systems I know, including MacOS X and Windows.

You can download it for free here.

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Step 2: Extract Files

Once downloaded you will need to find it on your computer – usually placed in your Downloads folder.

Right-click on it and select Extract All. Mac users might find the file already decompressed.

Step 3: Run the application

Make sure the memory card or hard drive which was accidentally erased is plugged into the computer before running the application.

Windows users can simply double-click on photorec_win.exe and they will be prompted with a window asking for comfirmation. Mac users will need to run the application as SUDO.

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Step 4: Start the search

If a black screen with white text has popped up you are on the right track.

The list shows the different devices which can be scanned. All you’ve gotta do is to find the one where your erased photos are.

photorec-application-screen

If you can’t quite figure it out, maybe try looking by size and name. Mine is an 8 GB (8.000 MB equivalent) SanDisk USB stick, so it wasn’t too hard to identify it (marked in red).

Use up and down arrows no make your way thorugh the list and hit Enter once you’ve found what you are after.

Next screen allows you to choose between scanning through the entire disk or selecting individual partitions.

photorec-partition-screen

If you have no idea of what a partition is, just go for the whole thing. Otherwise make your call.

Now it’s time to select the appropriate filesystem. This won’t ring a bell to most people, so to make it easier I can tell you that if you are using Windows and don’t know what to choose, go for the second option (FAT ou NTFS). Only Mac or Linux devices are usually formatted as ext2, ext3 or ext4.

photorec-filesystem-screen

And if it returns no results, then you can always go for the other option.

Whether you want to search for lost files only within the empty space of your device or throughout the entire thing is totally up to you. But given we are doing this to recover as many files as possible, why not to go for a full scan?

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Now all you’ve got to do is to choose the destination folder and hit ‘C’.

How long the entire process will take is dependent on how much the computer has to scan. But it could take anything from 10 minutes to a few hours, so it’s usually a good time to get a coffee or go for a walk while you wait.

photorec-in-progress

Once it’s all done you should see all files that have been recevered in the folder you’ve picked a few steps earlier. Be aware that file names sometimes can’t be recovered, which is a minor issue at this stage. So spend some time flicking through the photos and hopefully it’ll be all in there.

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Good luck!

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