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How do I get data off of DVDs containing my photos that won’t read?


A few years back, I tried to free up some space on my old PC and decided to
put all of my pictures that I had taken for years on discs. Well, I ended up
using DVD-R discs so that I could use fewer discs due to the storage amounts. I
permanently deleted all of the files off my PC because I had them on discs. But
unfortunately, I was never able to get the discs to work in my old PC. I thought
it was just because of the hard drive being close to full but I recently bought
a brand new laptop and am still unable to get them to work. It will load a few
folders and then the laptop will freeze up like it’s trying to load a 33-hour
movie, but it’s only pictures. Is there any way to retrieve these image files or
I have I simply lost five years of photos?

In this excerpt from
Answercast #47
, I look at DVDs that are not reading properly when attempting
to recover old photos. Unfortunately, it was not backed up.

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One copy is not backed up

Well, I have to start with an admonition that, in fact, it’s certainly
possible that you’ve lost your photos. The issue here is simply:

  • That you have only one copy of the photos;

  • And as I keep saying, over and over again…

  • If data is in only one place it’s not backed up.

  • You weren’t backed up.

It is certainly possible that the DVDs can or can not be recoverable. It
could go either way. But regardless of what that result is, had something else
actually happened to those DVDs (in other words, had those DVDs been working
properly from day one), you could still have lost them. You could have lost them
to a fire, something could have happened to break them. DVDs do deteriorate
over time.

So eventually you were going to lose that data one way or another, and
because you had only one copy of that data, they would be lost forever.

Start backing up

Now, the admonition is whatever you do, start backing up.

  • Make sure you have multiple copies of the data that you care about in
    multiple different formats and/or places.

Try a different drive

Now, with that little finger wagging out of the way, the thing that I would
try – and when I encounter this kind of problem myself, the very first thing I
try is I start taking those DVDs to different computers.

  • As I’ve spoken about before, DVDs and CDs suffer from what I would call
    alignment problems and quality problems.

  • In other words, different drives will have potentially a different alignment
    for the laser.

  • They will have a different quality for the laser;

  • And the DVD media itself can be of varying levels of quality.

The only way (the only inexpensive way that I know) to potentially recover
that data yourself is to simply take that DVD to computer after computer, or
rather drive after drive (it could be multiple drives on the same computer) and
see if you can find a drive that will read them.

The moment you do, copy them all. Make copies, start backing them up, throw
them on an external hard drive or two. You get the idea. But that’s the only
way that I know of to actually, independently step through these kinds of
issues and try and recover the data yourself.

Data recovery

Now, having said that, the other approach (if the photos are worth it to
you) is to find a data recovery service and see if they will operate on those
DVDs and recover the data. They may very well be able to.

  • Unfortunately, it could come at a cost of hundreds or maybe upwards of a
    thousand dollars or more to recover the contents of one DVD.

I just want to make sure that the option is out there. I know that not everyone
can afford it, but in many cases, the data that you actually are at risk of
losing is so important, is so precious, that some people do consider it worth
the money.

So those are the two options. Like I said at the very beginning, regardless
of what happens to these DVDs, start backing up.

Do this

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10 comments on “How do I get data off of DVDs containing my photos that won’t read?”

  1. One important aspect of backing up is to make sure the backup is readable. Most backup programs (and CD/DVD burner) has a verification or check integrity option. Always use it. It will take a few moments more for the process but it is worth it. And even if you have done it, before making any such big non reversible delete, make sure you have two backups (as Leo always says) and that both the back ups are readable. The second backup is your insurance for your important, can’t replace kind of data.

  2. You could try copying a few folders at a time instead of all the folders at once. There may be a one bad spot on the disk that is halting the copy process, and if you can determine which folder contains the bad spot, you can try to retrieve the folders around the bad spot.

    There is also a program called isobuster ( that’s been around for a number of years that can recover data from corrupted DVDs. I haven’t used it in many years, but it may be worth a try…

    I would also recommend the 3-2-1 backup strategy-
    at least 3 copies of anything you want to backup
    at least 2 different media formats (DVD, hard drive, flash drive, etc.)
    at least 1 version stored off-site in case of a local catastrophe (either on-line or stored at a friend’s/relative’s/work.)

  3. I’ve had very good luck with the free CD Recovery Toolbox: (
    “… recovers files from CD, DVD,HD DVD, Blu-Ray, etc. … restores information lost as a result of some mechanical damage of the disk (scratches, chips, different spots on thesurface) or as a result of incorrect recording. … can recover data that was considered lost. Scans CD and DVD disks and finds files and folders located there.”

    I’m not associated with them, only a happy user.

    Frank D

  4. I wonder if public photo-printing machines would manage to read them, such as in WALMART USA and ASDA UK?

    If successfull, they usually have a “Write to CD/DVD” Option.


    Also, why not use the HDDs on redundant PCs as your (one of many) back-up locations, instead of disposing of the PCs?

    That way, you would retain other data securely until it possibly/probably is no longer relevant to a hacker.

    Additionally, if you do successfully recover those photos etc, also write them to CD/DVD, SD or such-like; and send these to relatives or others to whom they may be relevant.

    I have done this with my Family Tree files, associated photos etc, so that I know that they are likely to be available readily in the event of a local disaster.

    These (remote) back-ups contain everything, whether apertaining to my Scottish family ancestry; or to my lady-wife’s Welsh ancestry.

  5. Further to the above,
    1. CDs / DVDs may have a life of less than five years.
    2. In five years time, CDs & DVDs may be obsolete, i.e. you won’t have a drive that can read them – anyone got a 5 1/4 inch drive ?
    3. If it’s not under a different roof, it’s not a backup.

  6. hi Leo,
    recently had a similar problem, not with dvds but with a hard drive, it started with a gremlin which got into the system despite MSE running properly
    this managed to play what appeared to be adverts whilst I was doing other things like looking at email or even looking at an mpeg movie clip, however I ended up with an external hard drive on which were most of my photos etc
    properties showed there to be 105Gb data, but you could not access anything, in a round about sort of way, whilst playing with puppylinux, I discovered that I could actually access, view and subsequently copy all the ‘lost data’, which I then copied to another drive using pupplinux, being jpeg and the like the format was then readable in windows, no problem, I have no idea what the problem was, unless it was related to the ‘gremlin, possibly a rootkit thingy’ which locked me out of certain files, as in addition, ‘my documents’ on the c drive was also locked, similar solution, reinstalled xp ona different disk, old c drive into usb sata caddy and copied what I didn’t want to lose across to another location with puppylinux and then back to the new installation of xp, so all is well now, will be making yet more dvd copies of ‘my docs’ etc
    but understandably delighted that I was able to do things with puppylinux that I couldn’t with windows, as I don’t have a dodgy dvd or cd to try with linux I can’t say, but what you say about different drives is spot on, I use 2 on my system, if one wont read a disk, it goes into the other which usually reads without errors
    Great service Leo, you are much appreciated
    on which were

  7. Try Badcopy Pro. It is designed to pull data from DVDs and CDs.

    I’ve successfully used it several times to help customers.


  8. A few years ago I had a similar problem (could not read my DVD backups) and finally ended up purchasing a program called IsoBuster. With that program I managed to recover almost all of my pictures, music and data, but it was a real marathon session – many, many, many hours (also I am an ordinary, average ignorant user). But it actually worked. It read the DVDs and I recovered the information. Money well spent, lesson well learned. I now use Macrium Reflect and two external drives!


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