HOW TO: Recover Accidentally Deleted Photos From Your Digital Camera

A CameraJust after Christmas, my wife was looking through the more than 300 photos on our digital camera that we had taken between Halloween and Christmas. Our four year old daughter had snapped about 30 photographs the day before and the camera memory was getting full. The battery was getting low too and the camera wasn’t responding well to the controls. My wife mentioned that she still hadn’t downloaded many of the pictures from the camera to her computer and that she better do it just in case something were to go wrong and we were to lose them.

She was struggling with the uncooperative controls, when all of a sudden she cried out “Oh NO! I think I just accidentally deleted all the photos!”

“What?” I responded. “How did you do that?!”

She didn’t know exactly how it had happened, but she was right. There wasn’t a single picture on the camera. All the pictures of Christmas Day, the pictures of the snowman I built with the kids before Christmas, the pictures of our family Christmas party, even the pictures from Thanksgiving—ALL GONE! She was devastated.

I panicked for a only a brief moment, but then the computer geek part of my brain clicked on.

“I think I can recover them,” I told her.

“How?” She asked dubiously.

“The camera memory is essentially just like a computer disk. I can probably get them back just like I can files,” I explained as I rushed out of the room toward the computer. “Just give me a few minutes.”

I am such a geek that I have a 1 gigabyte USB drive that I carry around on my key-chain filled with the installers for all of the most recent versions of free and open source software that I use frequently or might need at some point to install on someone else’s computer. (I am often asked to fix the computers of friends and relatives when I am visiting, so having all of these programs handy is usually helpful.)

I loaded up my USB drive and looked through the packages. Then I ran the installer for “PC Inspector Smart Recovery.” PC Inspector Smart Recovery is a free data recovery program design to recover deleted data from digital camera cards. It is released under a creative commons license that allows free distribution for personal use.

The program installed in less than 30 seconds. Then I attached the camera to the computer using the USB cable and then ran PC Inspector Smart Recovery. The process was simple. I selected the drive letter assigned to my camera by Windows. When we retrieve photos from our camera they are in JPG format, so I selected JPG from the file format selection box. Then I created a folder on my desktop called “RecoveredPhotos” and selected it using the Open File button and set the file name to Photo. and I clicked “Start.”

With in a few seconds the first couple of files began to appear in the folder. I opened them to verify that they displayed correctly and they did! Huzzah!

The process looked like it was going to take a while so I left it running and went to tell my wife the good news. It took between 30 minutes and an hour for the recovery process to run, but we recovered all of the over 300 pictures.

So, if you accidentally delete all of the photos on your digital camera, here is a step by step guide to recovery for those who are less comfortable with technology:

1. Don’t freak out…yet.

2. Whatever you do, don’t take any pictures with your camera until you have recovered your deleted photos. Taking pictures will overwrite the digital photo information on the camera and make recovery impossible.

3. Download PC Inspector Smart Recovery . Accept the license agreement. Then choose your language from the drop down box. Then select “http” from the “choose download” box and click the “download” button. Save the install program, pci_us_smartrecovery.exe, on your desktop (about 6.1 megabytes).

Program Installer Icon

4. Run the install program and complete the install wizard.

Program Installer Wizard

5. Attach your camera to the computer via the USB cable, as you normally would to download the pictures to your computer.

USB Cable

6. Instead of using the program you normally use to download your pictures, double click the “PC Inspector Smart Recovery” icon that was put on your desktop by the install program.

Program Desktop Icon

PCI Smart Recover Program Screenshot

7. In Box #1 select the Drive Letter that Windows assigned to your Camera.

PCI Smart Recovery Select Device Box

8. In Box #2 select the Picture Format used by your camera. Many modern digital cameras use JPG which is the default.

PCI Smart Recovery Select Picture Format Box

PCI Smart Recovery Picture Formats

9. This may be the most confusing part of the process for those who are somewhat uncomfortable with computers because it is not very clear that you are both selecting the folder where the recovered pictures will be placed AND the filename the pictures will be assigned.

PCI Smart Recovery Select Destination Box

Click the little button with the folder to browse to the folder you want the pictures to go into. You may want to create a new folder for them. Once you have navigated to the folder where you want the pictures to be saved, you will also need to type in the file name you want them assigned in the “File Name:” box.

PCI Smart Recovery Destination Dialog

If you type “RecoveredPicture” then the recovered pictures will be named “RecoveredPicture001.jpg”, “RecoveredPicture002.jpg”, etc. Once you have selected the correct folder and entered the filename, click the “save” button.

10. Now you can start the recovery process by Clicking the “Start” button in the lower right hand corner of the program.

PCI Smart Recovery Start Button

11. The recover process can take some time. Before it gets to far along you will probably want to open up the folder where you told it to put the recovered pictures and try viewing the first couple it recovered to make sure that it is working. If it is not, you may have selected the wrong picture format in box #2. If it isn’t working, click the cancel button and change the file format setting and try again.

12. If this process didn’t work, now is the appropriate time to start freaking out. Get a geek friend and see if she can figure it out.

Hopefully this will be helpful to some poor soul out there who has just accidentally deleted the the photos of their wedding or the birth of their first child from their digital camera.

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