Even in the computer world there are things that everyone has in common, not very pleasant events in which novice users can run into as well as those who have to deal with PCs, smartphones and tablets every day. Among the events in question there is the accidental deletion of photos and videos.
Admit it, you've been through this at least once and if you're here it's because you deleted some photos by mistake and now you're desperate because you don't know how to recover them. Well, let me tell you, maybe this is your lucky day! Today, in fact, I'm going to explain how to recover photos using some software, some apps and some online services that, in one way or another, allow you to bring back some files that you thought were lost forever. How? I'll explain it to you in a minute.
Let's be clear, miracles can't be done: if a file has been deleted, hadn't been included in any backup and the memory drive on which it was stored has been rewritten several times to store new information, nothing can be done. If you have a good habit of creating backups of your data and/or are lucky enough that the portions of memory on which the photos were stored have not yet been occupied by other data, you may be able to recover your precious shots in a much easier and faster way than you imagined. You don't believe that? Then take five minutes off right now and try to put the directions I'm about to give you into practice. I wish you the best of luck!
Retrieve photos from the cloud
Before moving on to heavy artillery, i.e. software that allows you to recover photos directly from device memories, take two minutes of free time and check if by chance the photos you lost are not stored in the cloud. If there are cloud storage services on your smartphone, tablet or PC (e.g. Google Photo, iCloud, Dropbox or OneDrive) and they are configured for automatic photo backup, you may be able to recover your photos easily.
You should know that cloud storage services, when a photo is deleted, move it to a temporary folder (a sort of Recycle Bin) where it remains available for at least 30 days: acting in this time, you can recover all the files that have not yet been permanently deleted and you can bring them back to their original location (eg. the Android or iOS roll). Here are details of all the steps you need to take depending on the cloud storage service configured on your smartphone, tablet or PC.
If you have Google Photo installed on your device and configured it to automatically back up your photos and videos, you should be able to recover your shots simply by opening its Trash and selecting the items to restore.
To access the Google Photo Recycle Bin, launch the official service app on your smartphone or tablet, press the ? button at the top left and select Recycle Bin from the bar on the side. Then, select the photos to recover (by making a long "tap" on the first one and then putting the check mark next to the others) and press on the arrow icon that appears at the top to return the selected shots to the roll of your device.
If you prefer to act as a PC, connect to the web version of Google Photos, log into your Google account (if necessary) and select the images to be recovered by placing a check mark next to their thumbnails. Finally, press the arrow icon in the top right corner and the selected photos will be returned to the Google Photo roll.
If you have an iPhone, iPad or PC/Mac with iCloud backup services active, you can try to recover your photos by connecting to the iCloud website and logging in with your Apple ID data.
When you are logged in, click on the Photos icon and if necessary, wait a few seconds for your photo and video library to appear. Now, click on the Recently Deleted item located in the left sidebar, select the photos to recover (to select multiple items at once, use Ctrl+click or cmd+click if you have a Mac) and press the Recover button at the top right to return the selected items to the iCloud roll.
If you need a photo that was not stored directly in the iCloud library but was contained in an app or folder linked to the service (e.g. the macOS desktop), you can recover it by accessing the list of deleted files in iCloud.
Go back to the iCloud website, click on your name at the top right and select iCloud Settings from the menu that appears. Then click the Restore Files item at the bottom left, select the files you want to restore by placing a checkmark next to their names, and press the Restore button at the bottom.
If you have automatic photo backup enabled on Dropbox, you should be able to recover your photos by simply accessing the web version of the service, logging in with your account data and going to the Deleted Files section accessible from the left sidebar.
At this point, locate the image to restore, click on its icon and confirm the restore by pressing the Restore button in the box that opens. The file will be restored to its original location within Dropbox.
The same procedure can also be followed for videos, documents and any other type of file stored (and then deleted) in Dropbox.
If you are using a Windows 8/Windows 10 equipped PC or a Windows Phone equipped smartphone, you will almost certainly have activated automatic photo backup on OneDrive: the cloud storage service from Microsoft.
To recover photos - and any other type of files - from OneDrive, access the web version of the service and log in with your Microsoft account details. At this point, select the Recycle Bin item from the left sidebar, select the pictures to recover by placing a check mark next to their names and press the Restore button (top right) to return them to the OneDrive roll.
If you use a Windows Phone, you can get the same result by opening the OneDrive app, pressing the ? button at the top left and going to the Recycle Bin. On the next screen, you can select the items you want to recover and restore them by pressing the arrow icon on the bottom right of the screen.
Retrieve photos from smartphones and tablets
Have you deleted photos from your smartphone or tablet and are you looking for a way to recover them without using your PC? Maybe something can be done, but I warn you, when trying to recover a deleted file from your smartphone (or tablet) memory, you should use it as little as possible. Writing other data on the memory of the device, in fact, could lead to overwriting the sectors on which were stored the photos to be recovered making them, in fact, irrecoverable even through the use of solutions suitable for the purpose.
In light of what has just been said, I suggest you try first with solutions external to the device (such as data recovery software for the computer) and then with apps that work directly from smartphones and tablets. Having made this necessary clarification, here is, in practice, what you can do to recover your photos from smartphones and tablets.
Earlier we said that cloud storage services, before actually deleting a file, keep it on "stand-by" for a few days. Well, know that many photo management apps do the same thing. This means that a recently deleted photo from your smartphone's roll of film may still be in the Gallery Trash and be perfectly recoverable. If you don't know how to access the Gallery Trash on your smartphone (or tablet), follow the directions below.
- If you have an Android device, open the Google Photo app, press the ? button at the top left and select Trash from the bar on the side. Then choose the images to restore and press on the arrow icon that appears in the top right corner to complete the operation.
- If you have an iPhone or iPad, open the Photos app, select the Albums tab at the bottom right and select the Albums item at the top left to see the full list of albums on your device. Then go to the Recently Deleted albums, tap the Select button at the top right and select the items you want to restore. Then tap the Restore button at the bottom right and you're done.
- If you have a Windows Phone, you can only retrieve deleted photos through the OneDrive recycle bin, as I explained earlier.
App to recover photos
If you didn't find the photos you were looking for in the Trash on your smartphone, I'm afraid you have no choice but to try your luck with one of the data recovery apps. There aren't many apps like that and the ones that really work are only compatible with Android - the most flexible operating system in today's mobile landscape.
One data recovery app that I recommend you to try (and that gave me quite positive results) is DiskDigger, which is available in two versions: a free one that allows you to recover only JPG and PNG files and a paid one (3.37 euros) that also allows you to recover images in other formats, videos, compressed archives, documents, etc.. The free version should be enough for you.
DiskDigger does not necessarily require the root to work, but as you can easily guess, if you root your smartphone/tablet, it can do its job in the best way. If you don't know what root is and what it is for, have a look at my tutorial on how to root on Android.
Once you've downloaded DiskDigger from the Play Store and launched it, using the app is a breeze. First, if you've rooted your device, press the Grant button to grant it administrator rights. Then answer No, thanks to the request to purchase the paid version of the software and select the internal memory item on your smartphone or tablet (which should be the one highlighted in bold, e.g. date). Then check the box next to the file format you want to recover (JPG for photos and PNG for screenshots or images in apps) and press the OK button to start searching for deleted photos.
At the end of the search (the operation may take several minutes), select the images to recover, press the Recover button on the top right and choose whether to export the selected items to an application installed on the device (e.g. Dropbox) by pressing on the cloud icon or to a folder on the device by pressing on the folder icon.
If DiskDigger cannot locate the photos of your interest, sorry, but most likely the portion of memory that hosted them has been overwritten and therefore the pictures are no longer recoverable.
To dispel any doubts about this, you can try scanning your device with Undeleter: another free data recovery app available on the Play Store, but it works pretty much the same as DiskDigger, so I doubt it will give you any different results.
Recover photos from PC
Now let's see how to recover photos using some PC software. The programs are for PC but can also be used on external devices. This means that you can connect an external hard drive, smartphone, tablet, SD card, USB flash drive and other devices to your computer and use these software to recover deleted photos from them. How? I'll explain it to you right now.
PhotoRec is the best data recovery software available for free. It is free, open source and multi-platform. It is available for Windows, MacOS and Linux, although it does not come complete with user interface on the latter, so it should be used from command line. It supports a wide range of devices: internal hard drives, external hard drives, USB sticks, SD cards etc. and also includes TestDisk: another free application that allows you to recover lost partitions and make damaged disks bootable again. You don't care about that at the moment!
Let's see now how to use PhotoRec. To download the program to your PC, go to its official website and click on the item related to the operating system you are using (in my example I will focus on Windows). When the download is finished, open the zip archive containing PhotoRec (and TestDisk), extract the contents into a folder of your choice and launch the qphotorec_win.exe executable.
In the window that opens, click on the Yes button and use the Select a media from which to perform the recovery operation to select the drive for the device from which you want to recover deleted photos. Then select the primary partition of the device (it should be the one named FAT32, NTFS or exFAT), put a check mark next to FAT/NTFS/HFS+/ReiferFS and Free and click the File Formats button to select the file types to be found with PhotoRec. If you only want to search for JPG and PNG images, click the Reset button in the window you just opened (to reset the list of files to search) and check only next to jpg JPG picture and png Portable/JPEG/Multiple Image Network Graphics.
To finish, click OK button to save the settings, press Navigate to choose the folder where you want to save the recovered photos from PhotoRec and press Search button to start recovering the deleted pictures (they will be automatically stored in the folder you selected before).
Recuva is an excellent data recovery software available exclusively for Windows. To download it to your PC, connect to its official website and click on the Download Free Version button first, then Free Download button and finally CCleaner.com.
After the download is complete, open the Recuva installation package (rcsetupxx.exe) and click the Yes button in the window that appears. Then select the language from the language selection menu (top right) and press the Install and Run Recuva buttons to start the software.
Now, to start the search for deleted photos through Recuva, click on the Next button in the initial window of the program, put the check mark next to the item Images and go on. Then select the device from which you want to recover photos (e.g. Sd media card or iPod to search removable devices only, Trash to search local drive or a specific location to indicate a specific internal or external drive) and press Next and then Start to start searching for deleted files.
When the scan is complete, locate the items to recover, select them and click the Recover button to export them to a folder of your choice. Items marked with a red dot are badly damaged and therefore virtually impossible to recover.
Note: If Recover cannot find the files you are interested in, try restarting it and put a check mark next to the Enable Deep Scan item (before clicking Start). This way the software will scan the drive more thoroughly and thus give more results.
Disk Drill is one of the best data recovery software available on Mac. It costs 79 Euros, but it is available in a free trial version which allows you to find out which files are recoverable and to preview them (to extract them, you need to buy the full version of the program instead). DiskDrill is also available for Windows, but personally on Microsoft's home operating system I prefer to focus on other solutions, like the ones I reported before (PhotoRec and Recuva).
To download the trial version of Disk Drill on your Mac, go to the official website of the program and click the Free Download button. Then open the diskdrill.dmg package and drag the icon it contains into your MacOS Applications folder. Once you've passed this step, start DiskDrill, click the Start button and type the password for your macOS user account.
To finish, press the Recover button next to the unit name on which you want to search for deleted photos, wait for the scan to finish and click on the eye icon next to the name of each item to preview it in real time. For more information about DiskDrill and its operation, read my tutorial on how to recover deleted Mac files.
If you are looking for a specific solution to recover deleted files from your Android devices, iPhone or iPad, check out my tutorials on how to recover Android photos and how to recover deleted iPhone photos.