When you delete photos from your device, they don’t immediately disappear from existence. Deleted photos go to a few different places before being permanently erased. Here’s a quick overview of where your photos go when you hit “delete”:
Deleted Photos Remain in Trash/Recently Deleted Folder
When you first delete photos, they get moved to a “trash” or “recently deleted” folder on your device. They aren’t fully removed yet. This gives you a chance to recover deleted photos if you change your mind.
On an iPhone, deleted photos sit in the Recently Deleted folder for 30 days before being permanently erased. You can recover photos from Recently Deleted anytime during those 30 days.
On Android, deleted items go to the Trash folder. Photos remain there for 30 days unless you permanently erase them or restore them. The duration may vary by device.
On a Mac, the Trash holds deleted files for 30 days by default. You can change this duration or empty the Trash manually at any time.
On Windows, deleted files sit in the Recycle Bin. You can restore them from there or empty the Recycle Bin to permanently delete.
Cloud Backups Retain Deleted Photos
If you use cloud photo services like Google Photos or iCloud, copies of your deleted photos may continue to exist in the cloud.
Google Photos and iCloud keep deleted photos in your account’s trash folder for a minimum of 60 days. After that, they may be permanently deleted. Check your cloud account’s policies for specifics.
Device Storage Still Holds Photo Data
Even after photos are “deleted” from your camera roll or local folders, traces of them often remain on your device’s storage. This is because deleting a file doesn’t necessarily overwrite the data right away.
Your phone or computer simply marks the storage space as available for new data. Until it’s overwritten, forensic software could potentially recover deleted photos from the storage media.
External Drives and Servers Retain Copies
If you backed up your photos to an external drive, USB stick, CD/DVD, or media server, deleted photos may still exist in those locations. Deleting from your main device doesn’t touch those backups.
Deleted Photos Persist in App Cache and Logs
Apps like social media services and cloud storage providers may retain copies of your deleted photos in caches and server logs after you remove them from your account and devices.
It varies by service, but deleted digital assets can remain recoverable from a company’s servers for 90 days or more in some cases.
Web Services Keep Cached Copies
Websites and online platforms can retain cached copies of photos you upload or delete. For example, if you delete an image you posted on a forum, search engines or the forum host may still have a copy on their servers.
comprehensively summarize where deleted photos can still exist:
Here is a summary of the places where deleted photos may continue to persist after you try to erase them:
|Device trash/recently deleted folder
|Up to 30 days typically
|Cloud account trash folder
|At least 60 days
|Device internal storage
|External drives and backups
|Indefinitely until deleted from source
|App caches and logs
|Up to 90 days or more
|Indefinite but usually shorter term
As you can see, deleted photos can persist in many unexpected places, both on your own devices and on other companies’ servers. Let’s explore some of these retention locations in more detail…
Camera and Device Storage
When you take a photo with a digital camera or phone, the image data gets written to internal storage in the device. This can be internal flash storage or a removable SD card.
When you hit delete, the device simply marks the storage sectors holding that photo as available for new data. It does not actually overwrite the deleted photo data right away.
The operating system may eventually reuse those sectors for new files. Until then, the deleted photo data still physically exists on the device storage. With forensic data recovery tools, it’s possible to scan storage and recover previously deleted files.
However, this gets increasingly difficult over time as more data gets written to device storage. The old deleted data gets partially overwritten by new files and becomes fragmented. Important parts of the photo may get destroyed.
In general, recovering deleted photos from internal device storage becomes less likely to succeed as time passes. The sooner data recovery is attempted after deletion, the better the chances.
Internal Flash Storage and Memory Cards
Photos you take with a phone, camera, or other device get stored on internal flash memory chips or external SD cards. This storage is directly attached to the device itself.
When deleting photos from internal device storage or removable memory cards, the same general process applies. The card or chips still contain the deleted photo data until rewritten.
SD cards make it easy to recover deleted photos. You can attach the card to a computer and run data recovery software on it without needing access to the original device. However, the chance of successful recovery declines over time as the card gets reused.
Cloud Photo Backups
These days, many of us rely on cloud services to back up photos from our mobile devices and computers. Companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft provide convenient cloud storage and syncing.
However, this means your deleted photos may continue to exist in the cloud – even after wiping them from your local devices. You need to delete them from the cloud account as well.
Cloud backup services usually retain any photos you upload for at least 60-90 days after deleting. Check your account settings and terms of service for specifics.
For example, deleted photos stay in your Google Photos trash for 60 days before final removal. Facebook keeps deleted photos for 90 days in most cases.
Also keep in mind apps may automatically back up your camera roll. So deleting directly on your device may not remove cloud copies.
External Drives and Servers
Beyond cloud servers, many people back up their photos to external hard drives, USB flash drives, CD/DVD discs, home media servers, and other storage devices.
If you store photos on an external device or server, deleting them from your primary device does NOT remove them from those backups. The backup retains all versions of files until you go delete them directly.
For example, deleting photos from your laptop doesn’t touch copies stored on an external USB drive. You need to connect the drive and delete photos directly from it as well.
Web and App Cache Files
Websites and apps temporarily cache files on servers and user devices to improve performance. These caches can retain deleted photos under some conditions.
For example, if you upload a photo to a social media site then delete it from your account, the platform’s servers may still have a cached copy saved locally or in a content delivery network.
Search engines also maintain cached versions of sites and images they index. If you delete a photo from a webpage, search engines may still have a cached copy in their archives.
App developers often maintain server-side caches and logs of content uploaded or shared through their apps. So deleted photos may continue to exist in the app’s cloud servers after removal.
Recoverability of Deleted Photos Over Time
As discussed above, deleted photos can remain recoverable from a variety of sources – potentially for months or years if backups exist.
However, the chances of successful data recovery diminish drastically over time. Some key factors include:
- Device storage getting overwritten by new data
- Cloud backups getting deleted from trash folders
- External drives being reformatted or overwritten
- Website and app caches getting cleared
In general, your chances of recovering a deleted photo are highest within the first 30 days after deletion, before too much new data overrides it. Trying data recovery after 1 year or more becomes very difficult.
But again, with robust backups, deleted photos can continue to exist indefinitely. For example, if you have an external hard drive or DVD with archived photos, deleting from your phone wouldn’t touch the archives.
Options to Recover Recently Deleted Photos
If you need to retrieve photos deleted from a phone, computer, or other device within the last few weeks, these options may help:
- Device Trash/Recently Deleted Folder – Phones and computers keep deleted files here temporarily. You can often restore files directly from the trash.
- Cloud Account Trash – Cloud storage services like iCloud and Google Photos maintain trash folders with your deleted content online.
- Data Recovery Software – Programs like Recuva and Disk Drill can scan internal media and recover deleted files before they’re totally overwritten.
- Data Recovery Service – For complex cases like a reformatted drive, a professional data recovery service can attempt to reconstruct files. Costs start around $300.
Again, your chances of recovery diminish each day. Act quickly if possible.
How to Permanently Delete Photos
If you simply want photos gone for good immediately without any chance of recovery, these tips can help:
- Use your device’s factory reset option to wipe all data and restore to default settings. This will scrub all storage.
- Manually delete photos from your device and cloud accounts like iCloud and Google Photos.
- Use a dedicated “file shredder” app to overwrite unwanted photos at the storage level.
- Physically destroy the storage media holding your photos if you absolutely want them erased.
Again, standard file deletion often leaves recoverable data behind. To fully remove photos permanently, you generally need to overwrite or physically destroy the storage involved.
Ethics of Recovering Deleted Photos
A few ethical considerations around trying to restore deleted photos:
- Only recover your own deleted photos, not someone else’s.
- Respect others’ privacy and consent before sharing recovered photos.
- Data recovery isn’t always a sure thing – be prepared to not fully get photos back.
- Think carefully before overwriting or physically ruining storage media.
- Abide by policies and laws regarding unauthorized access to data.
In general, only attempt to recover photos you took or have authorization to access. And get permission before sharing any recovered deleted photos involving other people.
When you permanently delete photos from your devices and accounts, copies of them often continue to exist in various unexpected places:
- Device internal storage
- External hard drives and SD cards
- Cloud account trash folders
- Webpage caches
- App caches
Your best chance of recovering recently deleted photos is within the first month, before too much new data overrides the old. Use device trash folders, cloud trash, data recovery tools, and professional services if needed.
For permanent deletion, you’ll want to factory reset devices, manually overwrite files, or destroy physical media. Standard file deletion is not enough to stop all data recovery attempts.
In the end, exercise caution and respect others’ privacy with any deleted photo recovery efforts.