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How do I recover my lost photos on my hard disk?


My 16 year old son did a restore and all my photos are gone never to
be seen again. It was mostly my daughters trip with her graduating
class. What can I do?

Stop Using The Machine

I’ll get into why in a moment, but depending on exactly how the
files were lost, the more you use your machine the lower your chances
of recovery.

What happens next depends on just how important those files were to


I’m normally a do-it-yourself kinda guy, but if these files are exceptionally valuable to you as it sounds like the might be, I might suggest investigating data recovery services. The solution might be simple, but it might also be complex. Depending on exactly how tech savvy you are and how comfortable you might be with some of the suggestions below, this might well be a case where professional assistance is the most prudent course.

With that being said, I’ll run through some approaches that may, or may not help you get your data back.

There’s a critical piece of information missing from the question: what steps lead to the data loss? Yes, you said your son did a restore, but that’s actually a vague term. What kind of restore? A restore from a backup? A system restore? If so, to what restore point? A restore of a few files? A partition? What software was used?

“The more you use your hard disk the more likely it is that your files will be overwritten and lost.”

You get the idea. There are a number of variables that affect exactly how the data might have been lost, and as a result, the appropriate next steps.

Since many of the possible file loss scenarios result in files actually being deleted, and the space they took on disk being made available for other files, it’s important that you stop using the disk as soon as possible after the loss. That’s why I started by saying turn off the machine. In fact, what we need to do in a case like this is to actually either boot from a “live CD”, which will not write to the disk unless we tell it to do so, or we need to install the hard disk as a second drive in another machine.

When Windows boots, and even when it’s running, it’s writing to your hard disk, possibly overwriting some of those valuable files. The more you use your hard disk the more likely it is that your files will be overwritten and lost. By putting that disk into a situation where it’s no longer being written to, we prevent any further data loss. (If the disk has a physical read-only switch or jumper, now’s a great time to use it.)

So, with that disk available in a situation where it won’t be written to accidentally:

Search – Use your favorite search tool to search for your photo files on the hard disk. You might get lucky and find that they’re not gone at all, but just in an unexpected place as a result of whatever this “recovery” was that was performed. Make sure that your search includes all files and folders, the Recycle Bin and all hidden and system files. For photos, it’s likely that searching for “*.jpg” might be enough, but hopefully you’ll also know the file names used by your camera or photo software.

Recover – Fire up a tool like Recuva to scan your hard disk for files which have been deleted, but not yet completely overwritten by other files. This is perhaps where you’ll spend the most time, since at any given moment there are probably thousands of recoverable or partially recoverable files on your hard disk. You’ll need to wade through that list to locate your photos and then use the tools recover ability to get them back. Remember not to write on your hard disk in this process – the very process of recovering one file could cause another to become unrecoverable unless you recover to a different disk.

Pay – Anything beyond those two steps, honestly, is the realm of the professionals. They’ll need to know as many specifics as you can give them about what happened, and what the files look like. With luck, and money, they may be able to recover more than you would have on your own.

Two final points about all this.

First: Yes, you could do the Search and Recover steps above without removing the hard disk and placing it into a different machine, or booting from a live CD. It might even work relatively well. It’s all about risk. The more you use your hard disk, the greater the risk that you will lose more of your data. How high is that risk? It’s impossible to say. It depends on your system configuration, how you use your machine, and even perhaps how full your hard disk is.

For maximum chances of recovery, you need to stop writing to the hard disk asap.

Second: you should have been backing up. If that hard disk was the only place those pictures were stored, you were asking for disaster. This time it was your son’s “recovery”, but something else less preventable could easily have happened later. Hard disks do die, and occasionally when they die they take everything with them with no chance of recovery.

If you’d been backing up regularly this simply would not have been the issue that it has become for you.

If nothing else, please take that away from all this.

Do this

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25 comments on “How do I recover my lost photos on my hard disk?”

  1. We had a client who did regular backups of her photos. Unfortunately, between the time she deleted them from her camera, and she made her next backup, the drive died, taking the last photos of her recently-deceased pet with it. Fortunately, we were able to recover the photos for her.

    After downloading pictures from my camera to my computer, I still don’t delete them from the camera until after I make a backup from the computer, for just such reasons.

    I’m still surprised how many people need help recovering “critical” files which have never been backed up.

  2. A few years ago I blew my hard drive with everything on it and no backup. I needed that data to complete my tax return. I drove the drive to a recovery company in northern California and wound up spending $800 to get most of it back, and around $150 for a new hard drive. That got me out of the hole, but did not address the future problems which might crop up. I bought a new CD reader-burner and now, twice a week, I burn ALL my data to a CD. Photos (1) are copied out of the camera (2) onto the hard drive (3) burned to a CD (4) then and only then are removed from the camera. Another alternative: there are now online services which will automatically do a backup of your entire hard drive each day. They’re really cheap and might be what you’re looking for: try “” for $50 a year (I haven’t used it but hear Leo Laporte and others talking about it all the time) so for small change that might be an answer for you.
    Good luck!

  3. One thing I do is if I transfer pictures off my camera to my hard drive, I also place them on a flash drive (thumb drive) until I have time to back them up. This way, if my camera and computer has a major problem, I still have a copy of each on a flash. When everything is backed up to a CD, I delete them off my flash so it will be available for the next round of pictures…

  4. My suggestion is to purchase a large capacity external hard disk, recently the prices have dropped considerably and the capacities have become large. For example, I have a 500Gb external hard drive with a USB connection which I can use both for backup and as an alternative to my C: drive. I can connect it either to my desktop computer or my laptop computer, but not both at the same time. I can use either the Windows Backup option or Maxtor Maxblast (Acronis) to backup the files. Acronis can also be used to create another safety first item – a bootable Windows set-up CD.


  5. I have a problem with some files I **thought** were backed up. I have 4 CD copies of a set of pictures to an old home. Unfortunately nothing I have reads them. The copies were made from the SD card and from the HD copy of the SD card. I was able to read the CD with windows and Irfanview and I had 4 copies of it so I felt safe in deleting the SD card. Now – a few months later I cant read any of the copies. They are jpg files and should be easily read. I have tried reading the CDs on several machines and can’t. They don’t appear deleted. I can see the files but not display the contents. My Norton Undelete didn’t find a problen it could deal with. It comes up as a black box. I was able to get into the house to take new set but they had redecorated and I’d really like the original set back. Are there any reasonable cost options or do I need to send a copy out & see what they can do. I’ve tried all the local solutions *I* can think of.

    Thanks Skip

  6. Hmmm. I know the cardinal rule is back-up, back-up, back-up……….but to what media if the stuff is still going to be around in years to come? The more I read of CD and DVD, the more it seems that longevity is not quite what the hype would have you believe, sometimes becoming unreadable in a very short time . Hard drives fail – eventually. I use two external drives, plus a lap-top to store all my precious stuff but what is the best way to archive and back-up?

    It depends on who you believe :-). I used to have data on floppy disks, and eventually copied it all to CD-ROM. Now I’ve copied my older CD-ROMs to a (pair of) hard disks. Eventually I expect I’ll be copying those hard disks to some media-of-the-future.

    But the point is an oft-debated one: what’s the best storage media for the longest term? Best file format so that whatever you have can be read 20, 50 years from now?

    – Leo
  7. After reading all the comments from Leo’s subscribers, no one has mentioned “printing the pictures” Yes… there are all kinds of ways of backing up pictures and other data with some security that they will be available in time to come. I own several flash drives and even a greater number of USB hard drives of various sizes. I keep many of my pictures on Facebook, Friendsters as well as similar programs. But I think the two biggest complaints that I hear is… either the person do not have the time to do these kinds of backups or they are afraid to learn several new ways of saving what is important to them. As many of us do and say, “I’ll do it later”.. LOL… but later you may find that your pants are already down to your knees. Shawn Patrick from Toronto, Canada.

  8. There is a pretty easy method recovering lost files. If you have a restore point (shadow) from the time before they got lost, download and run Shadow Explorer ( ). Here you navigate a) to the restore point you want to pick and then b) to Users > your Name > the folder/file in question > right click on that > Export. Voila, now you have it back in the destination you picked.

  9. Just the repeated advice: backup, backup, backup. I know so many people with disc burners who never use them to record their data. I personally have hundreds of CDs and DVDs from over the years with various data backed up on them. And I guess you just move the data from one generation of format to the other (like floppy to hard drive to DVD, etc.) I thought a System Restore in Windows just restored registry data and didn’t affect other stored data.

  10. Another thought: you could also try your undelete program on the camera card, especially if it hasn’t been used much since the photos were taken. Some special programs for this are also available (try Google).

  11. Couple of weeks back I had the misfortune of wiping out 30 gb of precious files (photos and videos of my son). I was trying to free some space in my hard disk to make space for ubuntu. I was resizing the partitions with PartLogic when the resizing stopped midway and gave an error message. When I booted into Windows (xp sp3) i got a shock when windows reported 30 gb partition as being empty.
    I tried two software to recover my files.
    first I used Avira’s UNERASE…but it also saw nothing.
    Then I used GETDATABACK for NTFS from .
    It scanned the partition for 30 minutes and saw all the lost files. After a few hours of copying the recovered files, I had all my files back !

    I was very please with this software’s performance. May be it can help you also.

  12. You can also try some of the very interesting tools like stellar phoenix data recovery software which can recover your photo’s very easily.


  13. It’s agreed that the Stellar Phoenix Data Recovery tool will be able to recover the deleted photos from the hard disk, but it needs to be kept in mind that the recovery process is done quickly and not after many days.

    The reason being that after many data, the deleted photos, though lost for a temporary period from the hard disk memory; will be lost permanently if the photos are overwritten by any newer data. So, if your photos are deleted from the hard disk, recover them using any recovery tool as quickly as possible.

  14. This is very common issue with most of the new computer users who lost their photos or data accidentaly from the hard disk. But good new is those data’s are fully reccoverable. It is because when the data from the hard disk is deleted permanently, only the address to which it is assigned is released and the data remains in the hard drive (provided it is not overwritten). So, you can retrive it easily just by using any recovery software. If you are using Mac system and want to recover some photos then I can suggest you one software and that is Photo Recovery for Mac. I hope it will help you.

    All the Best!

  15. Hi,
    Yeah definately u can recover ur pics.
    Deleteing the files or data only deletes the reference to them. The files are still on the hard drive until they are overwritten.
    There are programs or softwares that will find these deleted data

    Advanced disc recovery is a type of application which is used to recover lost data
    it can also recover data from formatted hard disc ..
    u can also try this..
    u can Download Advanced Disk Recovery v1.0 to recover deleted file from cnet

  16. Thanks for the recovery tips on recovering lost photos. I had reformatted my sd card that contains a lot of photos 2 months ago and I successfully restored some of the photos like 50% of lost photos with freeware you introduced on this article.

    The rest, I followed another guide
    and then restore another 40% of left with another program. Thanks Leo.

  17. Dear sir
    i have formatted my hard drive 4 days ago. Then i paste some videos in that drive. Sir i have formatted my very personal photos. Please tell me sir how can i recover my photos…..plz plz plz plz plz plz help me sir

  18. sir 1 years ago i tried to install ubantu (os) in my pc at dat tym i accidentally formatted all my drives ,,,,……this drive having my memories wid my frnds so plz sir sy smuthng dat hw can i recovery thos pic pls pls pls pls pls pls………………………

  19. Hi, Kishore you could try with one best recovery software to retrieve photos from hard drive. Before I could suggest you let me know the file format of lost pics.


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