Can deleted photos still be found?

This article will examine whether deleted photos can still be recovered from devices and online services. With billions of photos taken and shared digitally each day, understanding what happens to them after deletion is an important issue for privacy and security.

We will explore questions like: How does deleting a photo work on your phone or computer? Can backups or cloud services still retain copies? Is it possible for others to find your deleted photos? What are the best practices for permanently deleting photos you don’t want recovered?

By the end, you will have a deeper understanding of how photo deletion works across devices and services, as well as steps you can take to delete photos more securely.

How Deleting Photos Works

When you delete a photo from your device or cloud storage, the photo file is not immediately erased. Instead, the link between the photo file and the file system is removed, making the space the photo occupied available to be overwritten with new data. The actual photo file remains intact until that space is needed for something else and the deleted file gets overwritten (Source).

On smartphones and computers, deleting a photo sends it to the recycle bin or trash folder. The photo stays there until you empty the recycle bin, at which point it is marked as free space to be overwritten. However, the photo data remains intact until new data replaces it (Source).

In cloud storage like iCloud or Google Photos, deleting a photo removes it from your synced devices and marks it to be overwritten on the cloud servers. However, cloud services often keep deleted files for a period of time, anywhere from 30 days to a year, before permanently overwriting the data.

So in summary, when you delete a photo on a device or cloud service, the link to the data is removed immediately but the actual photo file remains intact until the storage space it occupies gets overwritten with new data. The photo is recoverable until this overwrite happens.

Photo Backups

Many iPhone and Android device users automatically backup their photos to cloud storage services like iCloud or Google Photos. Even after photos are deleted from your device, the cloud backup will retain copies of those photos for a period of time. According to Apple Support, deleted iCloud photos are recoverable for up to 30 days after deletion. Third party software like Coolmuster can also sometimes recover deleted iCloud photos beyond this period.

In addition to the cloud, photos may also be backed up locally to a computer through photo management apps and services like Apple Photos or Google Photos. If you have deleted photos from your device but they still exist in a local backup on your computer, recovery is also possible. However, local backups are prone to deletion themselves if the backup drive fails or you manually delete the backup files.

The key takeaway is that photos deleted off your mobile device or cloud storage may persist for a period of time in backups. However, these backups do not preserve deletions indefinitely, so permanent recovery is not guaranteed. Checking cloud and local backups shortly after deletion gives you the best chance of recovering accidentally deleted photos.

Cloud Storage

Cloud storage services like iCloud and Google Photos often retain copies of deleted photos for a period of time. Both iCloud and Google Photos keep deleted photos in their backups and archives unless the user permanently deletes those files.

For example, when you delete a photo from your iPhone’s camera roll, it will also be deleted from iCloud Photos after 30 days. However, that deleted photo remains stored in your iCloud backup archives for up to 120 days. This means you have a window of time to recover that deleted photo from iCloud before it is permanently erased. [1]

Similarly, when you remove photos from Google Photos, they are sent to the Google Photos trash folder where they remain for 60 days before being permanently deleted. Within that time period, you can restore deleted photos and recover them from Google’s cloud servers. [2]

So in summary, both major cloud storage providers retain deleted photos for a limited time, giving users a chance to recover photos that may have been accidentally or unintentionally removed.

Device Storage

Even after you delete photos from your device’s camera roll or gallery, the photos may still exist in the phone’s storage. Both iOS and Android devices retain recently deleted photos in a temporary cache or trash folder before permanently erasing them from the device after a set period of time (Richardson, 2017).

On iOS devices like iPhones and iPads, deleted photos are kept for up to 30 days in the “Recently Deleted” album before being permanently deleted (Apple, 2023). Users can recover photos from this album during that 30 day period. After 30 days, the photos are permanently removed from the device.

Similarly, Android devices retain deleted photos in the trash for 60 days before permanently erasing them (Google, 2022). So any photos deleted from the device in the past 60 days can potentially be recovered from the trash folder.

Even after the set time period when deleted photos are permanently erased, traces of the photos may still exist in the phone’s storage and system caches. Specialized data recovery software can scan a device’s raw storage and find photo fragments that can potentially be reconstructed (Richardson, 2017).

Therefore, while photos may seem to be deleted from a device’s user interface and apps, underlying storage and caches can retain data that allows deleted photos to be recovered within a certain time window. For permanent deletion, users must take additional steps beyond just deleting photos from the camera roll or gallery.

Photo Sharing Sites

Photos shared on popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat can often still be recovered after being deleted, as these sites maintain backups and caches of content.

For example, when you delete a photo on Facebook, it gets moved to the trash folder where it sits for 30 days before being permanently deleted. Within this time period, you can recover the photo from the trash folder [1]. Even after 30 days, Facebook keeps a copy of all photos you’ve posted for backup purposes, so it may be possible to restore it by contacting Facebook support.

Similarly, Instagram does not immediately wipe deleted photos. It stores deleted content for up to 90 days in most cases. Using a third-party recovery tool, you may be able to restore deleted Instagram photos from this backup [2].

However, keep in mind photos can only be recovered if the account was not deleted. Deleting the account itself removes the backups. Additionally, any photos shared privately through messaging may not have the same protection.

Web Caches and Archives

Even after photos are deleted from devices and online services, copies may still exist in search engine caches and web archives. Search engines like Google automatically cache or store temporary copies of web pages and images in order to speed up load times. These cached copies can persist even if the original content is deleted or changed [1]. As a result, a photo deleted from a website may continue to appear in Google Image search results for a period of time until the cache is cleared and search indexes are updated.

Web archives like’s Wayback Machine also take periodic snapshots of websites over time. If a photo was publicly visible on a website in the past, copies may exist in web archive records even long after deletion. There are limited options for removing cached or archived copies of photos, usually requiring contacting the services directly. Overall, web caches and archives can inadvertently retain copies of deleted photos, complicating their permanent removal from the internet.

Forensic Data Recovery

Even if photos are deleted from a device, forensic data recovery techniques can often still recover them by analyzing the raw data on the storage media. Forensic recovery software uses advanced scanning to find remnants of deleted files. This works because when a file is deleted, generally only the directory entry pointing to the data is erased – the actual data still exists on the disk until it is overwritten by new data.

By analyzing disk sectors and searching for file signatures, forensic tools can rebuild deleted photo files. Even if some data is missing or corrupted, forensic methods may recover partial image data. Formats like JPG lend themselves well to partial recovery. However, data overwritten by new files is likely unrecoverable.

Some popular forensic data recovery tools include Wondershare Recoverit and AccessData’s Forensic Toolkit. Police and investigators often use such software for analyzing photos and other data on confiscated devices involved in criminal cases.

For maximum recovery potential, it’s best to create a full forensic image of the storage device before attempting recovery. This preserves the integrity of the data for evidence. Forensic techniques allow recovering deleted photos from hard drives, smartphones, cameras, USB drives and more – if physical access to the device is obtained.

Permanent Deletion Methods

For users who want to ensure deleted photos can never be recovered, more extreme deletion methods may be necessary. Here are some tips:

Use a dedicated photo deletion app like Photoshredder ( to overwrite the storage sectors where deleted photos were kept multiple times. This makes recovery impossible through standard means.

Encrypt your device storage or memory cards so all data is scrambled and unreadable unless decrypted with a password. Then delete the photos as usual. Without the encryption key, the deleted photos will be unrecoverable raw encrypted data.

Perform a factory reset or wipe your device storage through recovery mode. This will permanently clear all data by overwriting it at the lowest level for a clean slate.

Physically destroy old memory cards and drives by smashing them, grinding them up, or melting them if you have very sensitive photos you want erased forever.

Use a privacy-focused camera app like Obscura 2 ( which automatically deletes photos right after they are taken. This prevents copies from being stored.

Turn on deletion protections in cloud backup services like iCloud and Google Photos. This forces permanent deletion from their servers when you delete on your device.


In summary, while deleting photos may seem to remove them from your device, there are still several ways they can potentially be recovered. Backups, cloud storage services, social media sites, web caches, and forensic data recovery can all enable deleted photos to be found again. The only way to ensure photos are permanently deleted is to use specialized software that overwrites the storage space multiple times.

So in answer to the key question, yes – deleted photos can often still be found unless special precautions are taken. Simply deleting photos does not guarantee they are erased forever. Being mindful of backups and cloud syncing, avoiding photo sharing sites, and using permanent deletion software are some of the main ways to make sure your deleted photos stay deleted.