How Can You Recover Digital Photos from a Formatted Memory Card?

If you're like me (and many of my customers), then your photos are precious and irreplaceable. I'm sure that you treat digital photo files with care. But even with the best of intentions, files can still get lost. Perhaps you accidentally formatted your memory card. Or maybe you intentionally formatted it but forgot to back up your picture files first. If so, don't despair, your files may still be hiding out on your memory card just waiting for you to seek them. All you need is your SD card, hardware to read an SD card, photo recovery software, and your wits. 

The first step is to stop taking photos. The more you use your memory card, the more photos you can lose. Next, remove your memory card from your camera, place it in a protective SD card case if you have one, and keep it in a safe place until you're ready for recovery.

The simplest way to recover your photos is to use one of the many photo recovery programs available. Some cameras come with photo recovery software. If you have this software, use it. If you don't have software already, you can do a quick online search for recovering photos from a memory card. You'll find lots of advice and many programs to choose from. There is plenty of freeware available to recover photos from a formatted memory card. However, if your data is truly valuable, you might want to try a higher end commercial product.

Once your file recovery software has finished downloading, you can get down to finding your digital photos - a simple process now that you're armed with software. 

Insert your memory card into the SD card reader on your computer or an external SD card reader connected via USB.

Run your software and follow the step-by-step instructions. If all goes well, your photos will be recovered!

Once you've found your photos, save your photos to a new disk. Remember, saving your recovered photos to the same disk may overwrite other photos you are also trying to recover.

But what if you didn't find your files? 

A formatted memory card isn't a problem you can fix by throwing money at it. But if you simply feel like you are in over your head, hiring a data recovery professional may be worthwhile. Before you do, you should evaluate whether or not they'll be able to recover it at all. Some photos and videos may be simply irrecoverable.

If you have any of the following situations, a data recovery pro may not be able to help you:
  • You've formatted a memory card and filled it up with new photos and videos.
  • The SD card is completely unreadable (i.e. physically damaged).
  • You've found photos using a file undelete program, but only part of it shows up (this is a sign that some of the data has been overwritten).
  • You've performed a secure format.
 All of the above situations could mean that you are simply out of luck. If you do want to consult a data recovery service, ask what they charge for a diagnosis or evaluation. Best Buy, Walgreens, Staples and other camera shops and "big box" electronic stores offer data recovery. But it can be pricey.

The only time I would advise you to go straight to a data recovery professional is if you have absolutely no idea what you are doing. If you've read all my advice and understood almost none of it, then avoid attempting a photo recovery on your own - you may make the problem worse.

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