New Workshop! Lighting 3 | Advanced Off Camera Flash

Gear & Apps

Save Your Images, Clients, Sanity And Your Liver By Recovering Lost Files For Free

By Kishore Sawh on April 15th 2015


We’ve all seen those films where the baddie, some disgruntled citizen who’s never had a date, hides his master plan to wreak havoc and peril upon some group who made fun of his haircut in early childhood, all on a flash drive. Then when security forces catch wind of his plan, and he decides to delete the evidence by deleting the files. He assumes all is well, only to find some ‘genius’ in the agency manages to bring back all that info off the drive like magic. While it may be oversimplified in cinema, this can be a reality. Most of us know now that simply deleting a file from a drive doesn’t mean it’s gone forever, and that when the drive indicates there is now ‘space’ to write new files, it is actually writing over old ones.

So this tells us that your deleted or corrupt files, whether done by you or by someone else on purpose or by accident, may be retrieved after the fact. This process done professionally can be time-consuming and costly, and not necessarily the easiest or cheapest thing to do by yourself. A friend asked me to look into something posted on Fstoppers yesterday about a free digital asset recovery app called PhotoRec, and I’m happy to report it seems quite good.


The app, as stated earlier, is free and brought to you by CG Security. It’s also text based, which may appear initially daunting to those of you who never grew up using MS-DOS, but this is quite straight forward. There’s a whole page of instructions to be found here should you need help. Essentially all you have to do is open it, select the drive/disk to be worked on (what you’ll usually identify via size), select it or a partition of it, choose a destination, then press a button and allow PhotoRec to use witchcraft to do the heavy lifting – or digging, as it were.

It was easy to download and use, even given the interface. It will run under most operating systems, and since it essentially ignores the files system of the drive to be worked on (FAT, NTFS…), it can work with it even if that file system is damaged.


[REWIND: 6 Key Mistakes To Avoid When Handling SD Cards to Minimize Data Loss]

Additionally, it doesn’t simply work with memory stick flash drives, but with CD-ROMs, hard disks, and CF and SD cards also, among others, and isn’t restricted to recovering images files, but all manners of files like videos and documents etcetera. See list.

The number and types of occasions where something like this can come in handy are as numerous as they are diverse; you could’ve formatted a card thinking you’d actually already backed it up, your card could be corrupt, and the list goes on. Each scenario as horrifying as the last, and potentially damaging to your business, certainly your sanity, and possibly your liver. It’s highly worth it to keep this tucked away for the inevitable rainy day. Download it here.

P.S. This should also highlight how easy it is for someone to grab your data off old memory drives, so for the love of God, destroy them properly.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. robert garfinkle

    btw – there is a new Samsung “portable” SSD out there, a bit pricey, but you get 1TB of SSD for portable storage on-the-go…

    this is as rugged as it gets. maybe not water proof, but drop it, and you don’t lose data, no moving parts

    | |
  2. Rafael Steffen

    Thanks for sharing more information about file recovery in photography!

    | |
  3. Ved Raj


    | |
  4. Jake Stifler

    now all my doubts are clear about manual and full feature flash…

    | |
  5. robert garfinkle

    So, that’s pretty impressive; are you speaking about a re-writable CD rom (please, laugh with me a moment for the oxy-moron, jumbo-shrimp paradoxical) media re-writable, read-only-memory medium – i.e. how can you write to it, if it’s read only!!!

    But, can it recover files which were once burned onto a CD-RW, erased, now it can recover them… pretty darn slick… never heard of that one before…

    And, Kishore? I’m that guy, who grew up with DOS.

    Today, we have D.L.S. (DOS-Like-Substance)

    It does not list windows 8(.1), that could be an issue…

    I use a product called r-Undelete, by, and have been using it for many, many years, is hardcore. I am not sure if it recovers from overwritten CD-ROMS etc… but this product is just amazing. You do have to purchase it, worth every penny though. even older versions work in todays windows OSs…


    | |
    • Dave Haynie

      A CD-RW is by definition not a CD-ROM, I think that’s a little confusing. Software that doesn’t know any better will accept CD-RW and CD-R as the same thing as CD-ROM, but both formats can have files “overwritten”. In the first case, the CD-RW can actually write over the original file on that disc, and there’s no getting that back, any more than you can on a HDD or SSD (that’s always a “maybe”… did the file get unlinked but not actually overwritten, or was it physically overwritten). And much like an HDD/SSD, if you fast erase a CD-RW (like fast formatting a HDD/SSD), the files are still on the disc, just the top level directory has been reset.

      On the CD-R, being write-once, the original file is still there, unless you used specialized software designed to destroy it. The ISO format actually supports file versioning, though most operating systems don’t know what to do with that. When you overwrite a file on CD-R, you’re actually creating a new file of the same name but incremented version. You probably just see the most recent version, but version-aware tools can get you any version.

      What this tool does is scan the disc looking for file headers, without being concerned about directory information. So it can build up a model of the files, skipping over missing or damaged parts. Photorec adds knowledge of the various photo formats on top of the usual file recovery stuff, from what I can tell. I wrote the best file recovery tool (DiskSalv) for AmigaOS ages ago, but they’re all doing basically the same thing.

      | |
  6. Ed Rhodes

    cool, thanks for posting this.

    | |