Searching for a photo on your Mac or PC only to slowly realize you’ve deleted it can make you feel helpless. Whether it’s your wedding album, family vacation photos, or even just casual snapshots of friends, it’s an awful feeling when you accidentally delete a file you meant to keep.
You should be regularly backing up your photos to avoid this situation entirely, but accidents happen. Luckily, all hope is not lost! With data recovery software, there’s a chance that you can rescue your photos from the brink of permanent deletion.
There’s absolutely no promise that all of your photos will be found — but if there is a chance, these are the apps that can help you.
How does photo recovery work?
Data recovery tools can scan your hard drive for files that may not be visible to you anymore. When you delete a file from your computer, it isn’t erased immediately. Instead, that chunk of digital storage is relabeled as available and can be written over. Until that hard drive real estate is taken up by something new, your data might still exist, unharmed.
You might be thinking to yourself “Well, I haven’t installed any massive programs on my computer lately — my photos will definitely still exist!” Well, almost. Depending on your daily activities, that space could’ve been momentarily used for temporary storage of some kind, erasing the data that was existing in hard drive purgatory.
This is all to say that the sooner you attempt to recover lost files, the better.
The following apps are built to scan your hard drive and locate these deleted files so that you may recover them. Free or cheap options may have quick-scan options but work less efficiently, whereas paid apps complete more thorough searches but require more time.
Which option works best for you depends on your operating system and how much you value the files you’ve lost. We always recommend giving the free or low-cost options a go first. Paid tools can be expensive and still don’t have a recovery guarantee.
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The best data recovery software
If you’re looking to track down some lost files but don’t have the budget for any of the options above, PhotoRec might get the job done. Free and open-source, PhotoRec can run on Mac, Windows, Linux, and other lesser-used systems. Users report consistent file recovery, at least when the files were just recently deleted.
The one issue some folks may have with PhotoRec is its interface — it uses a command-line interface instead of a GUI that most of us would expect. This might mean poking around in the support forums for answers and spending a bit more time learning to use the program.
Recuva is good, not great. If you’re looking to recover lost files without breaking the bank, this is going to be one of your best options. The Wizard interface walks you through the recovery process so you won’t be troubled with the complexities of data recovery and the process doesn’t take very long.
Recuva performs pretty quick scans, but they’re also only surface deep. Users do report getting a significant portion of deleted files back, but a quick scan of feedback will show you that it just isn’t as consistent as more advanced, expensive programs.
This is a great free option if you’re frantically looking to rescue a couple of photos you just deleted, but you might want an upgrade for more advanced jobs.
No recovery program works miracles, but Stellar Photo Recovery has rave reviews from the photography community and has saved countless corrupted hard drives and memory cards over the years. Users report high-res photo and video recovery from all sorts of storage devices using the app.
You can give the free trial a shot, but you’ll need to upgrade to the Standard plan for unlimited recovery. The higher plans operate just as well but have added features like corrupt photo repair and thumbnail recovery needed for damaged storage devices.
The cost of a download might feel a bit rough in cases of accidental deletion, but it’s a great tool and a worthwhile investment for professional photographers.
Disk Drill is an elite recovery tool and its price tag reflects that. You might be able to get away with the free version if you’re looking for less than 500MB of files, but to use the full app you’ll have to shell out a one-time fee of $89.
Users have reported that it’s money well spent, though. The Pro membership allows you to download both the Mac and Windows version of the software, and you can use it on three devices. The interface is very straightforward and easy to use, and the results are very consistent.
Disk Drill also has fantastic live support and a slew of guides on how to use the program if you get stuck at any point. It’s a bit pricey, but you get what you pay for.