What to do when you lose all of your digital photos

(Courtesy BigTallGuy/Flickr)

It happened on a trip to the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town. It was a clear day—the first in a foggy, rainy week—and the type of weather that precipitated a trip up the mountain. Photography weather, and I was ready, snapping photos, capturing the fog covered mountainside, immortalizing my morning hike when the most menacing of messages appeared on my digital camera display screen: MEMORY CARD ERROR. And next to those three dreadful words, a large, compassionless symbol that seemed to blot out the sun: 0. Zero photos?0 the display screen read, in all capital letters and Denda New font. (I googled it, because when something this horrible happens, it's important to know the type of font designed to deliver bad news.)

I couldn't take any more photos. The card was frozen, dead. Maybe, I thought grasping at what little optimism I held onto, the card will work in my computer. But hours later in the café of my hotel, my laptop screen lighting my face in a dim glow, my card still read zero. Gone were the photos of my eco-stay in a Nqileni village, my visit to East London, the chicken peacefully nesting in my "hotel" bathroom. But were the photos lost forever?

Turns out…no. After some research, a few frantic phone calls, and a Facebook status message eliciting advice from friends, I discovered there are some ways to recover your lost photos. Here are your options:

1. Stop What You're Doing

Stop clicking, stop turning your camera on and off, stop everything. Clicking randomly could damage your lost photos further. Simply turn off your camera, and remove the card. You can begin file recovery at your computer by inserting your card into a card reader, or connecting your camera to the computer. Whatever you do, do NOT format your card. Doing so, will permanently delete any photos stored on the card. In the future, avoid turning off your camera or viewing photos while a picture is being written to the disk, and do not eject the memory card while the camera is still on.

2. Download Software

There are many free and for-pay programs to help you recover your photos. Most services offer you a preview (or a free trial of the software) of resurrected photos so that you can choose to continue with recovery, or scrap it. Simply download the software, and follow the instructions to begin recovery. Note that for-pay services (typically $29-$49) are more likely to bring about desirable results than the free options.

Options: Zero Assumption Recover, Recuva, Flobo Recovery, Pantera Soft, Photo Rescue

3. Take It to a Professional

If you're not confident in your computer skills, or worry you could further damage your photos, consider having a professional help. Most photography or camera repair shops offer services to recover your lost digital memory, and save the photos to CDs. Prices vary (for example, I found three different prices in my neighborhood - $39.99, $59.99, and $129 per memory card); however, you only pay if there are photos that can be recovered. This was the option I ultimately chose.

Fortunately, for me, I was able to recover all but a few of the photos using digital software at my local photo shop. Now, my only dilemma is what to do with the photos.

Madeline Grimes


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