Can forensics recover deleted iPhone photos?

Many iPhone users don’t realize that deleted photos can often be recovered. When a photo is deleted off an iPhone, it isn’t actually erased right away. The reference to the photo’s storage location is removed so the space can be overwritten, but forensic data recovery methods can retrieve the photo before it gets overwritten. There are DIY apps that claim to recover recently deleted iPhone photos, or users can turn to professional data recovery services that use more advanced techniques to recover deleted photos even after a long time. However, iPhone photo recovery brings risks of private data exposure and legal issues around consent. Understanding how deleted iPhone photos can be recovered, and the risks involved, allows users to make informed decisions about their data.

How iPhone Photo Deletion Works

When a user deletes a photo on their iPhone, the photo is not immediately and permanently erased. Instead, the photo is simply marked as deleted in the iPhone’s database but remains on the device’s storage until that space is needed for new data (Source).

The deleted photos get moved to a Recently Deleted album where they will stay for 30 days before being permanently deleted (Source). During those 30 days, the photos are recoverable by the user from the Recently Deleted album. After 30 days, the photos are forensically erased from the device’s storage through data overwrite procedures.

So in summary, when a user deletes a photo on their iPhone, it is not immediately erased. The photo continues to exist in a recoverable state for 30 days before being permanently deleted from the device.

Forensic Data Recovery Methods

One of the most effective ways to recover deleted photos from an iPhone is by using specialized forensic data recovery software and hardware. This requires connecting the iPhone to a computer running forensic software capable of thoroughly scanning the phone’s raw storage.

Forensic tools can extract far more data than what is accessible through normal means. They can scour an iPhone’s system files and unallocated disk space to find remnants of deleted photos. This gives forensic methods the best chance of recovering photos, even if they were deleted long ago.

The process involves creating a complete bit-for-bit image of the iPhone’s storage. This disk image can then be analyzed closely while minimizing risk to the original data. Forensic tools use pattern recognition and advanced algorithms to reassemble deleted photo fragments. They can also bypass locks and encryption to access all available data.

Scanning and recovering data at this low level requires specialized expertise. Typical users do not have access to such tools. But professional data recovery services use them regularly when hired for recovering lost iPhone photos and other information.

DIY Recovery Apps

There are several do-it-yourself photo recovery apps that can help retrieve deleted photos from an iPhone, even without backups. Apps like iMyfone D-Back and iMazing use advanced scanning algorithms to locate residual data from deleted photos that may still exist in the phone’s storage.

These apps connect the iPhone to a computer and scan the raw data for recognizable photo fragments. With a deep scan, they can retrieve photos and videos deleted recently, even if you have emptied the trash or reset the phone. The apps also recover data lost due to system crashes, accidental deletion, or unsuccessful upgrades.

However, the free trial versions typically only allow previewing the recoverable photos. To fully restore and export the deleted photos and videos back to your phone or computer, you need to purchase the full version of the DIY recovery app.

Seeking Professional Help

When DIY software can’t recover photos, professionals can attempt manual recovery. Companies like Professional iPhone Data Recovery Services use advanced techniques and tools to manually extract deleted photos from iPhones, even without a backup. They open the phone in a clean room environment and access the raw NAND flash storage to scan for deleted photo data.

This requires specialized equipment and training but allows accessing deleted files that were overwritten or partially corrupted. Prices range from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars depending on the phone model and recovery complexity. While expensive, for irreplaceable photos, professional recovery may be worth the high cost when DIY options fail.

Preventing Deleted Photo Recovery

There are some steps that iPhone users can take to prevent deleted photos from being recovered through forensic methods. According to Apple Support, encrypting the iPhone storage can make it more difficult for third parties to access deleted data (1). When encryption is enabled, the iPhone requires a passcode to access data. Without the passcode, forensics experts would have a harder time recovering deleted content.

Another option is to wipe the iPhone storage completely before selling or disposing of the device. According to discussions on the Apple Support forums, performing a factory reset erases all data and settings from the iPhone and clears the encryption keys (2). This makes it nearly impossible to forensically recover deleted photos through data extraction methods.

In summary, enabling encryption and performing a factory reset before getting rid of an old iPhone are two ways to prevent deleted photos from being recovered by forensics experts. However, these techniques also mean losing the ability to recover deleted photos through normal means.


Recovering Deleted Photos from iCloud

One way to recover deleted photos from an iPhone is to use an iCloud backup. iCloud automatically backs up iPhone data including photos on a regular basis as long as the iCloud backup feature is enabled. Old backups are stored for a limited time (up to 30 days for non-paying iCloud users).

To recover deleted photos from iCloud backup:

1. Go to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups and select the desired backup.

2. Tap Restore and your iPhone data including photos will be restored from that iCloud backup. This will overwrite your current iPhone data so make sure to have a current backup.

3. Once the restore is complete, your deleted photos will be recovered as they were at the time of the iCloud backup you restored from [1].

This process allows you to recover deleted photos as long as they were backed up to iCloud before being deleted. However, it will also revert your iPhone back to the state at the time of that backup. An alternative is to use a third party iOS data recovery app that can extract deleted photos directly from an iCloud backup without affecting your current iPhone data.

Mitigating Risks of Deleted Photo Recovery

While deleted photos can often be recovered, there are steps you can take to mitigate the risks of sensitive photos being restored. Here are some tips:

Be mindful of the photos you take, especially those containing sensitive content. Consider whether you would want a deleted photo to be recoverable before capturing it. Avoid taking unnecessary sensitive photos when possible.

Store sensitive photos securely using encryption or apps with private photo vaults. Enable passcode and/or biometric locks on your photo apps. This makes it much harder for unwanted parties to access your deleted photos through recovery.

Frequently backup and delete photos you no longer need. The more you overwrite storage with new data, the less likely deleted photos can be fully recovered.

When deleting sensitive photos, use a secure delete option if available. This overwrites photo data to prevent forensic recovery.

Before disposing of an old device, ensure all data is wiped using a factory reset or deletion tool. Otherwise, deleted photos may be recoverable from the device.

In summary, being thoughtful about the photos you take and enabling security features on your devices can help mitigate risks associated with unwanted photo recovery.

Legal Implications

There are certain legal implications surrounding the forensics and recovery of deleted photos from iPhones. Specifically, there are laws regarding consent and ownership of the photos that come into play.

Uploading or sharing sexual photos or videos without the subject’s permission can be considered “revenge porn”, which is illegal in many jurisdictions. As one legal expert notes, “Uploading or sharing sexual photos or videos of another person without their permission is a crime. You should contact the police” (source). The person whose photos were shared without consent may be able to press charges.

However, the original owner of recovered explicit photos may still legally retain them even if asked to delete them by the subject. As stated by one attorney, “If you took the photos, they are unquestionably your intellectual property and they have no legal grounds to demand that you delete them, period” (source).

In summary, while recovering and sharing deleted explicit photos without consent is illegal, the original owner may still retain recovered photos. There are complex legal issues around consent, ownership, and privacy regarding recovered iPhone photos that should be considered.


In summary, while recovering deleted photos from an iPhone is possible in many cases, there are no guarantees. Both DIY and professional data recovery methods have limitations based on the specific circumstances and time passed since deletion.

Users should be aware that forensic recovery methods can access photos even after they are deleted from the phone’s storage. The risks of unwanted or embarrassing photo exposure can persist even long after deletion. However, there are steps one can take to reduce this risk, such as encrypting the phone’s storage and wiping the device before trading it in or disposing of it.

Overall, those wishing to keep photos private should exercise caution. Consider whether some photos are better left uncaptured rather than trying to delete them later. Review and prune photos regularly to limit sensitive content that accumulates. Enable encryption and two-factor authentication wherever possible. And avoid relying solely on deletion to hide photos, as forensic recovery methods are only becoming more advanced over time.