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How to Recover that Photo, Picture or File You Deleted Accidentally

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Have you ever accidentally deleted a photo on your camera, computer, USB drive, or anywhere else? What you might not know is that you can usually restore those pictures—even from your camera’s memory stick.

Windows tries to prevent you from making a big mistake by providing the Recycle Bin, where deleted files hang around for a while—but unfortunately it doesn’t work for external USB drives, USB flash drives, memory sticks, or mapped drives. Luckily there’s another way to recover deleted files.

Note: we originally wrote this article a year ago, but we’ve received this question so many times from readers, friends, and families that we’ve polished it up and are republishing it for everybody. So far, everybody has reported success!


Restore that File or Photo using Recuva

The first piece of software that you’ll want to try is called Recuva, and it’s extremely easy to use—just make sure when you are installing it, that you don’t accidentally install that stupid Yahoo! toolbar that nobody wants.

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Now that you’ve installed the software, and avoided an awful toolbar installation, launch the Recuva wizard and let’s start through the process of recovering those pictures you shouldn’t have deleted.

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The first step on the wizard page will let you tell Recuva to only search for a specific type of file, which can save a lot of time while searching, and make it easier to find what you are looking for.

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Next you’ll need to specify where the file was, which will obviously be up to wherever you deleted it from. Since I deleted mine from my camera’s SD card, that’s where I’m looking for it.

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The next page will ask you whether you want to do a Deep Scan. My recommendation is to not select this for the first scan, because usually the quick scan can find it. You can always go back and run a deep scan a second time.

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And now, you’ll see all of the pictures deleted from your drive, memory stick, SD card, or wherever you searched. Looks like what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas after all…

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If there are a really large number of results, and you know exactly when the file was created or modified, you can switch to the advanced view, where you can sort by the last modified time. This can help speed up the process quite a bit, so you don’t have to look through quite as many files.

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At this point, you can right-click on any filename, and choose to Recover it, and then save the files elsewhere on your drive. Awesome!

Download Recuva from piriform.com

Restore that File or Photo using DiskDigger

Update: it looks like since we first wrote about this, DiskDigger became shareware, which gives you a prompt for every file you save. It’s up to you whether you want to try it—best bet, try Recuva first. You could alternatively use the slightly older, but still totally free, portable version of the application from portablefreeware.com. Thanks, Mary!

If you don’t have any luck with Recuva, you can always try out DiskDigger, another excellent piece of software. I’ve tested both of these applications very thoroughly, and found that neither of them will always find the same files, so it’s best to have both of them in your toolkit.

Note that DiskDigger doesn’t require installation, making it a really great tool to throw on your PC repair Flash drive.

Start off by choosing the drive you want to recover from…

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Now you can choose whether to do a deep scan, or a really deep scan. Just like with Recuva, you’ll probably want to select the first one first. I’ve also had much better luck with the regular scan, rather than the “dig deeper” one.

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If you do choose the “dig deeper” one, you’ll be able to select exactly which types of files you are looking for, though again, you should use the regular scan first.

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Once you’ve come up with the results, you can click on the items on the left-hand side, and see a preview on the right.

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You can select one or more files, and choose to restore them. It’s pretty simple!

Good luck recovering your deleted files!

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/1/11

Comments (79)

  1. purplegreendave

    It’s also worth noting that the longer you leave it to try recovering the deleted files, the smaller the probability of it being recoverable, as they can be (partially) written over.

  2. David Levine

    This is exactly the situation I ran into and Recuva came to the rescue. A great little program.

  3. EB

    Recuva is portable as well and can be found here

    http://www.piriform.com/recuva/builds

  4. Migabri

    With same HD i had best results with filescavenger than Recuva in recovering files…

  5. Steve Bryant

    Does this work if the memory card has been formatted by a camera?? Will have to try this out :)

  6. Bob

    I have not tried Discdigger but have had great success with Recuva. Once, when Recuva failed, I got a good result from Lexar Image rescue 3.

  7. Kevin

    I use to use Undelete Plus til it stopped working. Then I tried Recuva and it works great. I like their other programs also, especially CCleaner.

  8. Steven Taylor

    I’ve always used GetDataBack for NTFS and have had WONDERFUL success – even after a quick format and OS install! purplegreendave is right – the longer you wait, the smaller the window of recovery gets. This is because files will eventually begin to overwrite the sectors that still have your old data on them making it much harder to find traces of.

  9. Alec S.

    I like PhotoRec because it allows you to scan only the free space on the device instead of scanning the whole thing. That way it is much faster and the free space is where your deleted files are anyway. (Recuva has a deep-scan option; so I wonder if the normal scan searches free-space) Either way, PhotoRec can detect a lot of filetypes. Of course it is not very user-friendly for novices.

  10. Hatryst

    I believe this article has already been featured on HTG before…
    Very useful though !!

  11. Josh B

    This is great for windows, but PhotoRec is also an excellent recovery option for linux users.

  12. Josh

    Thanks for the article. Anyone know of anything like these available on OS X?

  13. Doz

    You and and all of the guys and gals at howtogeek BLOW MY MIND!!
    Please send a link to fix this.

  14. ducktape

    FYI there is a portable version of recuva, which can be found here: http://www.piriform.com/recuva/download/portable

  15. baterya

    thanks for this wonderful tip.. i have always had a hard time doing backups between comp and a usb this will help if I accidentally deleted an important file

  16. Ja5087

    There is Recuva Portable too

  17. ian

    stupid yahoo toolbar. :D *LOL*

  18. Paul

    HTG really enjoy your articles, in the process of hacking with HBC my wii! Have a question, my wife’s camera is a bloody Fuji with an xD card. My PC doesn’t have an xD reader, and I notice that when I plug the camera in via the USB cable it isn’t assigned a drive letter, therefore I am having issues trying to recover the pictures (using other tools I found).

    So
    1) is it possible to mount a camera and give it a drive letter;
    2) do either of these programmes work on a camera (ie can you navigate to the camera from the image search); or
    3) do I have to buy a xD card reader. (not the biggest issue in the world!)

    Cheers and thanks in advance!

    paul

  19. mandy velasco

    THANKS, SIMPLE AND USEFUL TO GET BACK THE PICTURE I ACCIDENTALLY DELETE.

  20. Gilda Garcia

    Disk Doctors Digital Media Recovery can recover accidentally deleted photos as well as music and videos from cameras and memory cards that would be put in them. ..Disk Doctors Digital Media Recovery can be your good choice not only on recovering accidentally deleted photos from camera but also on recovering lost corrupted formatted photos music and videos from camera and other digital storage devices like memory cards USB drives etc..

  21. Monex

    If you are wise enough refrain from and stop others from meddling with the camera cause any harm done to the hard drive will delete the photos from it forever.

  22. rmardo

    i once used recuva to help a co-worker recover here files. it did recover the files but the problem is the directory location where they used to be isn’t there anymore. we have to manually move the files to the subfolders they once were.

  23. Buddy

    I’ve used Recuva for a while. I have the regular version installed and the portable version on my flash drive.

  24. Ladybbird

    Thanks so much, you are my favourite Geek!!! xx

    The rest are bril too of course

  25. Peggy

    Has anyone recovered an e-mail if so I need some help

  26. NKlur

    What about for Macs? All these work on PC only!

  27. Margaret

    Please please please Help me to delete an Ad Aware Total Security trial program that I installed. It was awful. Now when I try to uninstall I get Error 1321 The Installer has insufficient privileges to modify the file C:\ProgramData\GDATA\bb\Events.gdb Help. Is there anyone who can help me? Much appreciated if you will.

  28. Iain

    Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery is my tip.
    Tried an absolute stack of photo recovery software – free and trials – after my Windows Mobile microSD card suddenly crapped out.
    This was the best by far though not free. I don’t know if different systems suit different programs but I tries a lot.
    Now got an iPhone !

  29. astral_cyborg

    I use mainly Recuva and Undelete360. Both freeware.

  30. Linda Sherwood

    I need help finding my exe files…none of them work and always ask what program do you want to open something with but lost my exe files. Plese help

  31. MargaretC

    I had the same problem and found the answer in the Picasa Forum. Open computer hard drive and find Program Files and it will be in there.
    In my case under Program Files I had to open Google to find Picasa. Problem solved. (Google Owns Picasa) I hope this works for you.

  32. NAS

    You can use BluestSoft Photo Recovery or Bluestsoft DataUndeleter Softwre to recover your all importent photo or document.

  33. Stephanie Corder

    Thank you SO much for this- I’d just spent the last hour trying everything I could think of to restore my pictures to no avail. Then I happened upon this article and in 5 minutes had them back! THANK YOU!!!!!

  34. Jack

    Great, but once we’ve found the files… How can we obliterate them…

    Say I want to give my computer to my daughter and don’t want ther to find those pictures of mommy and daddy…

  35. DN

    Jack, Don’t have pictures of mommy and daddy on there, jk lol….

    On a serious note though if you partition the hard drive afterwards. There is software that is available to write zeros to the empty space on hard drives to protect deleted data. A Google search may or may not reveal that as well.

  36. Majid Ali

    Thanks

  37. Hubba Akhtar

    I tried recuva and did get the files but when I recovered them only some were visible while others it said that the file may be damged corrupted etc etc. PLEASEEE can somebody help me, I really need those files!!! PLAESEEEE!!

  38. Hubba Akhtar

    I even tried that other one but in that i could see fewer pics :(

  39. Ankit Moradiya

    Hello There,

    Thank u so much i have tried this software it’s very Helpful and Success..

    Thanking You….Good Job

  40. DM Villanueva

    Does this process or Recuva also work on the MAC?

  41. gemmzzz

    does anybody know how to recover files from an iphone? have hit a brickwall after recuva didnt work

  42. Pavan Kumar Kaushik

    Awesome !!!! What about LINUX ???

  43. Kumars

    This software is awesome. Thank you very much.

  44. brandon

    this software is epicly awesome.

  45. Marvie

    I have “lost” my entire CreataCard address book and calendar. Do you think this would recover them?
    Thanks,

  46. moriuk

    I accidentally deleted some files, photos, and videos then emptied the recycle bin. I immediately recovered them by Recuva on different drive, although they were all in excellent condition ( not overwritten) I can no longer read the files, see the photos or watch the videos as the formats are not supported. Does anyone know how to get them back to usable format? I best mention that I use 64 bit Sony laptop.

  47. hwmfan

    I just photographed a wedding and like a dummy somehow while transferring files deleted some. (Heart attack) But thanks to Recuva and this article they are saved!!! Thank you.

  48. Ran

    I tried both recuva and diskdigger and they both found the files I need to restore!
    but, both of them mark the pics next to a red icon and say that there is no preview available. once I tried to restore them (with both programs) the files that generated were unreadable by any picture viewing program I have. windows photo viewer says that “windows photo viewer cant open this picture because either photo viewer doesnt support this file format or you dont have the latest updates for photo viewer”. the file format is JPG and the size is right.
    I fear that the new file are no good. is there any way to restore them????

  49. San

    i dnt tried it, but i think its coooolll.

  50. fahmida

    when i done all this and after and i highlited it but when i opened my file it says that its not been supported…!! im not sure what to do someone plzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz help me

  51. anjali

    can it work for computers memory?

  52. esty23

    Ran, I had the same problem. Did you find a solution?

  53. jayaraj

    i know there is a software recova to recover the data.
    thanks for giving information about disk digger.

  54. ma

    i downloaded recuva because by accident i deleted photos from my vacation and then emptied the recycle bin. i searched online how to recover then and so i bought recuva but now when i tried to recover the photos through recuva, there are no results. Am i doing something wrong? everyone says it works yet im not getting any results. someone please help me, i really need those photos.

  55. rachel

    Is there any way I can do all this and save them as jpegs on my comp for FREE??

  56. CameraR

    There are many other excellent freeware options for recovering photos. The problem is finding them. As this site doesn’t allow links, just copy the following listing of freeware recovery software and paste it into Google to find them:

    MiniTool, VAIOSoft, PC Inspector, Recuva, Pandora, SoftPerfect

  57. lolo

    is this recuva for free or u have to buy it in able to save it cause i tried card recovery but u have to buys it in able to save it it sucks since im a student pls some one answer

  58. Prastika

    I have tried using Recuva but i hve the same problem as Ran and Esty23…..
    Plizz guys…if u have any solution to this problem……plizzz tell me…….the pictures are really important for me…..pliz pliz pliz…..help me out…..

  59. Jay Nayyar

    Can id still recover even after few days

  60. PG

    Does it wrk with an IPhone !!?!

  61. PG

    I accidently deleted pics frm my Iphone … Can smbdy help mee plzz!!! Is der any app ???

  62. Mel

    Just used recuva and it restored 320 word/excel docs in 8 seconds I accidentally deleted off my usb stick!!! It saved my life! Thank You!!!

  63. Vera

    Thanks so much, I recovered very important documents and files!

  64. taralee

    Thank you so much! I was able to recover the pictures from my daughter’s 1st day of school!!!

  65. Amanda

    Fantastic, thankyou!! Didnt work on quick scan but found the files when I did the deep scan.

  66. vivek

    I have format my photos in my lap can i get the images again its possible pls help me

  67. VJ

    i thank from the bottom of my heart for such a free and simple and useful software…thanks Recuva.
    just got my pics from my camera memory card…awesome..

  68. Allison

    Does this work if you didn’t back up your pics to your computer? Like I have a Sony sure shot. Meant to delete one picture and pushed wrong button and deleted them all. Not on hard drive, just memory stick. I’ve now paid for a membership and it isn’t finding any pictures. Just pics on a c drive, which is taking forever so I think it is wrong.

  69. Matteo

    Thank you thank you THANK YOU!!! Spent almost 6 hours on an essay and stupidly deleted it by accident but thanks to you its all fine :)))

  70. Soukie

    Does this work if I am trying to restore pics and vids from an iphone backup that was deleted through itunes?

  71. Allison

    Thank you very much. This finally worked, but I had to use an adapter to plug my memory stick into my computer. It does not find the memory stick pictures from camera hooked in, at least with Sony cybershot. Hope this helps someone else as well. Thanks again.

  72. Allison

    For Apple folks, look at apple support.com or lion recovery. Don’t take more pics or download info as it could overwrite deleted pics. Do not finalize information.

  73. Allison

    Recuva is only windows. Many say Win/Mac compatible. I haven’t used it, but one is PhotoRecovery.

  74. bella

    revuca was excellent~~ love it so much.. it save my graduation picture
    yahooooo!!!

  75. Mario

    Amazing program..three thumbs up!!!

  76. Tia

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! I lost a very VERY important picture, and your website helped my recover it. Thank you for directing me to Recuva.com. It was a godsend. Agian, I can not thank you enough!!!

    Signed,
    Very Grateful

  77. Byde

    What a relief after recovering 112 pics i took during research for my final project! Very Grateful to you guys! Thanks Alot!

  78. Mona

    Thank God for all the computer geeks in the world. I say this as a person who is truly computer illiterate, even though I’ve taken some classes, I just can’t remember what I’ve learned unless it’s something I used
    everyday. I didn’t come from a generation of everything “computerized”, but my kids did, so that helps.
    I was just asking my son yesterday about how to find a picture of my mother and I that I took on my cell phone and sent to my e-mail, and then it was somehow deleted. I had deleted it from the cell phone, since I had sent it to my e-mail. It was the last picture I had taken with her. She had Alzheimer’s and died a year later, and the picture was very important to me. I still can’t understand how it was deleted from my e-mail. At the time, I didn’t have my own computer and was using my father-in-law’s laptop.
    Again, I’m so thankful there are websites such as this to help someone like me, who feels helpless in this complicated, technical world:)

  79. Ken Truemab

    Try PhotoRec or TestDisc. Both are excellent, or go the whole hog and get the System Rescue Cd which contains both applications and much more.
    All work with Windows, Mac and Linux and are completely free.

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