Can you actually recover deleted photos?

Losing photos that hold precious memories or important information can be devastating. When photos are deleted from a device, many assume they’re gone forever. But that’s not necessarily the case. Deleted photos can often be recovered with the right software and techniques. Keep reading to learn more about how photo recovery works and how you may be able to get deleted pictures back.

Quick answers:

Can you recover permanently deleted photos? Yes, it’s often possible to recover deleted photos, even if you emptied the recycle bin. Special data recovery software can scan the device to find and restore deleted photo files.

How do I recover deleted photos for free? There are free data recovery apps like Recuva and Glary Undelete that can scan your device and recover deleted photos. The free versions typically have limited functionality compared to paid software.

Is it possible to recover deleted photos from the cloud? If you had photos backed up to the cloud, you may be able to restore deleted cloud-based photos through your cloud account’s trash or version history up to 30 days after deletion.

Can you recover deleted photos from a memory card? Yes, as long as the storage hasn’t been overwritten, data recovery software can scan the memory card and restore deleted photos. Avoid taking more pictures before running the recovery.

Is there hope once you clear your phone’s trash bin? Yes, clearing the trash doesn’t wipe deleted photos right away. Recovery software looks at the device’s storage to find photo data that still exists behind the scenes.

How are deleted photos recovered?

When you delete a photo file on a device, the operating system removes the reference to that file’s data location. The deletion simply marks the photo’s disk space as available for new data storage. Until something overwrites that space, the deleted photo data still physically exists.

Data recovery software is designed to scan a device’s storage and find space containing deleted data. By comparing bit patterns, it can recognize the signatures of different file formats, like JPEGs from photos. When a deleted photo is identified, the software will reconstruct the image so you can restore it.

Deleted photos vs. formatted drives

Recovering deleted photos gets more complicated if an entire drive is formatted. Formatting completely clears a storage device’s file system structure, marking all disk space as empty. However, it doesn’t erase the actual contents. Data recovery first requires rebuilding enough file system data to search for deleted files.

How to recover deleted photos

If you act quickly after deletion and avoid overwriting, you have a good chance of getting lost photos back. Here are tips for recovering deleted pictures from common devices and storage media.

Recover deleted photos from Windows

If you use Windows, try these methods to undelete photos:

  • Restore from Recycle Bin – Deleted files sit in the Recycle Bin until it’s emptied, allowing restores.
  • Use data recovery software – Scan local drives to locate and recover deleted photos.
  • Retrieve from cloud backup – If files were backed up to OneDrive, restore from the cloud recycle bin.

Recover deleted photos from Mac

On Mac OS, you can attempt to recover deleted photos by:

  • Finding photos in the Trash folder – Items deleted on a Mac go to Trash and can be recovered.
  • Scanning the storage – Use data recovery apps to search internal drives and external devices.
  • Obtaining copies from Time Machine or iCloud – If enabled, backups provide ways to restore deleted files.

Recover deleted photos from a camera or SD card

If attempting to restore deleted photos from a camera, memory card or flash drive, remember a few quick tips:

  • Don’t take more photos – New images may overwrite deleted data.
  • Scan the card with data recovery software.
  • Try removing the SD card and using a card reader for the scanning process.
  • Look for backups on a computer if pictures were transferred.

Recover deleted photos from your phone

Smartphones store lots of irreplaceable pictures. Use these methods to recover deleted photos on mobile devices:

  • Restore recently deleted iOS photos – Open device Settings > Photos and find Recently Deleted to undeletelost images within the last 30 days.
  • Use Android device data recovery – Apps like DiskDigger Photo Recovery can scan internal memory and SD cards to find deleted files.
  • Extract photos from a backup – Mobile backups on iCloud, Google and other services keep copies of deleted phone images.

Best free data recovery software

Specialized utilities provide the best chance to salvage deleted photos. These top free options can help:

Recuva (Windows)

  • Recovers photos and other deleted files on Windows PCs
  • Wizard interface walks you through choosing a drive, scanning and restoring
  • Advanced deep scan mode digs further to find erased files
  • Free version has limited capability compared to paid Pro version

Glary Undelete (Windows)

  • Another good free choice to recover deleted files on Windows
  • Quick and deep scanning modes
  • Preview found files before recovery
  • Sorts recoverable files by category and directory

TestDisk (Windows, Mac & Linux)

  • Open source data recovery tool for experienced users
  • Recovers lost partitions as well as deleted files
  • Runs from a command line interface
  • Can produce technical logs for data recovery experts

Best paid recovery software

For business, professional photographers, or valuable personal files, investing in advanced recovery software is worth it. Top paid options include:

Stellar Photo Recovery (Windows, Mac)

  • Recovers photos, videos & multimedia files
  • Scans all connected devices
  • Previews files before recovery
  • Stellar offers several levels based on needs

R-Studio (Windows, Mac & Linux)

  • Powerful data recovery with advanced RAID and disk imaging
  • Scans local disks and removable media
  • Recovers documents, multimedia, emails, databases
  • Tech support assists with tricky recoveries

Disk Drill (Windows & Mac)

  • Easy to use interface rescues up to 500MB in free version
  • Scans internal and external disks
  • Filters by file types and selects folders to recover
  • Full data protection suite in paid Pro upgrade

When is photo recovery impossible?

As powerful as data recovery technology has become, some situations will make it impossible to recover deleted photos:

  • Completely overwritten data – New files saving to the same storage location as deleted photos overwrite and destroy the original data.
  • Severely damaged media – Physical damage to a disk drive or memory card corrupts stored data beyond repair.
  • Encryption – Encrypting a disk makes data inaccessible without the password if you ever need recovery.
  • Factory reset – Resetting a phone or other device to factory settings purges all user data.

Photo recovery tips

While you can’t always get back deleted photos, these tips will maximize your chances:

  • Use read-only recovery software that won’t overwrite deleted data.
  • Scan storage devices as soon as possible after deletion.
  • Avoid actions like saving files or uninstalling apps after data loss.
  • Try not to write new data to the device you are scanning for deleted files.
  • Store photos and backups across different drives or devices.


Recovering deleted photos is usually possible with the right software and quick action. Specialized data recovery utilities can scan storage devices to locate image files marked as deleted and restore them to usable condition. Free options provide basic photo recovery capability while paid solutions offer advanced features and expert support. The sooner you scan for deleted files and avoid overwriting, the better your chances of salvaging treasured photos.