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How to Fix the Big Oops!

Performing photo data recovery is something we all dread but will have to do at some time. Accidentally erasing or formating our card and loosing all our beautiful photographs happens to the best of us. If you have a way to recover your deleted photos, the mistake is a bit less painful.

How Memory Cards Work

Compact Flash and other types of memory cards arrange data in a way that allows us to recover from most accidental erasures and formats.
There is a special file on the card called a FAT or File Allocation Table that tells the camera or computer where on the card the photo is stored. It is kind of like a picture book. The photos are on the pages of the book and the index tells you where to go for a certain photo. So to find a photo the computer or camera looks in the FAT and finds where to go to access the photo.

When you erase or in some cases format your card you are not actually erasing the photo data itself but removing it’s entry from the FAT. The photo is still there but the camera or computer does not know were to look for it.

Digital Photo Recovery Software

So along comes digital photo recovery software that actually searches the card for your photos and tries to put the information together the way it was before. The information for each photo may not be stored all together (like a book with the picture on two pages) so the software has to try and find all the pieces and re-assemble the photo.
One thing to be aware of. If one of the pieces of the image is missing or corrupt, the photo can not be recovered. You might see only a portion of the photo in the recovered file.

Important Precaution

If you plan to try photo data recovery on your memory card, DO NOT CONTINUE TO USE IT. If you continue to write data to the card, you could be writing new data over the old, making recovery impossible.
The Program I Use
If you are using one of Lexar’s Professional Series compact flash or secure digital cards, you would have received a free copy of their recovery software called Image Rescue. The software is also for sale from their website.
This is a great program that I have used a few times to recover from an accidental format. It has saved my butt and it amazes me how much the program is able to recover.

It is really easy to use and works without much help on your part. If you know what you are doing, there are some more advanced recovery techniques available. You can also do a low level format (really erases all the data), check and update the firmware of the card, and a few more utilities.

I found this program recovers more photos than any other program I have tried and well worth the $30 if you have to buy it.


There are many different programs to choose from, some free and some you must buy. Many of the programs have free trial that let you see what they can recover, but you must buy them before the recovery actually takes place.
You will need to weigh the cost of photo data recovery versus the cost of loosing the photos. Sometimes those travel pictures or portraits are just not replaceable.