PhotoRec: The Free Photo and Digital Asset Recovery App

PhotoRec: The Free Photo and Digital Asset Recovery App

If you're a Mac user, stop what you're doing and download this. I'm serious. Digital asset management (DAM) isn't everyone's favorite topic but it's an incredibly important part of any professional's workflow. But when things go south, you need to have a recovery plan — that's where PhotoRec, the free text-based app by CG Security, comes in.

We've all been there: files get corrupted, you forget to import a second card before formatting, drives fail, catalogs crash. It's a nightmare. However, as the tech junkies know, when a file is ostensibly deleted it's not actually, physically erased. Rather, the space it occupies is marked as available and allowed to be overwritten (something important to keep in mind if you're selling or disposing of drives and media that used to hold sensitive media). PhotoRec and other services like it take advantage of this fact and can scrub your disk or card for all the files that haven't been overwritten.

Scenario 1: Someone (read significant other, model, etc.) deletes a picture he or she doesn't like.

Scenario 2: You (read me, Austin Rogers), being the genius you are, format a CF card you were positive you imported after the last shoot.

Scenario 3: After a long day of shooting you go to import your pictures just to find the card is corrupted, and because you're on a 5DII you didn't back up to a second card.

Any of these three will bum you out, two of them might ruin your day, and one of them might lose you a client. But don't freak out — there's a recourse.

  1. Head over to the PhotoRec Wiki site and download the latest version.
  2. Open up the Unix Executable File labeled "photorec" in the downloaded folder.
  3. This will launch a terminal window — don't worry, non-nerds, it's not nearly as scary as it may look.
  4. Enter your account password and press enter.
  5. Select the disk to search (typically identifiable by the size of the disk (i.e. 64 GB, 32 GB, 16 GB, not the big drives) and press enter.
  6. Select the partition (or whole disk) you'd like to search and press enter.
  7. Select a destination and press the "c" key.
  8. Sit back, relax, and let PhotoRec go to work.

PhotoRec is a speedy little app, it'll chew through my 32GB CF card in about 20 minutes (via an old USB 2.0 reader). It is also very effective, grabbing over 400 file types (in 200+ file families) including all the important ones: NEF, CR2, etc. (there's a full list of file types here).

Even if you don't need it now, and don't plan on making a dumb mistake — download PhotoRec. Save it to your desktop, put it in your Dropbox or Google Drive, email it to yourself, burn it to a disk, throw it on a USB. Keep it just in case. It's gotten me out of a pinch before, it may be able to do the same for you.

You have now entered the No Shame Zone. What's your worst / stupidest DAM mistake? I'll start off with mine in the comments.

Austin Rogers's picture

Austin Rogers joined Fstoppers in 2014. Austin is a Columbus, OH editorial and lifestyle photographer, menswear aficionado, pseudo-bohemian, and semi-luddite. To keep up with him be sure to check out his profile on Fstoppers, website, drop him a line on Facebook, or throw him a follow on his fledgling Instagram account.

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Scenario 2. I'm not proud of it. Fortunately I was able to recover all the files I needed (there were only 10 or 20 on the second card), I'm still kicking myself.

I wish I knew of this a few months ago. I got a new external drive and formatted my old drive instead of the new disk. Stopped it within a few seconds but the damage was done. I lost 1.5 TB of movies and music. Fortunately I can redownload most of them, but some few are hard to replace.

I have a corrupt CF card that's been laying around for a while and haven't been able to recover anything from it since my Mac can't even detect it when it's plugged in. Tried PhotoRec and it still won't detect it. Any advice?

I had one the same way. I put it back into the camera it came out of and plugged it in via USB and was able to get the footage off.

Interesting, I will give that a go. I did even try formatting it from my camera but it says it can't be formatted so I think the card is just fried. Seems like all my Lexar cards eventually fail on me.

So mined a film management one. I rarely shoot on film these days, but do put the occasional roll through my leica. Problem is that now i'm more focused on my DAM strategy i forget the simple things i use to do with my film - ie label if i pushed it or not. So now i have a finished roll of trix400 and i don't know if i shot it at 400iso, or as i often do 1600iso. i'm afraid to develop it now ;)

Scenario 4: You sell unwanted flash media. What are you giving them access to above and beyond the physical media? <mindblown/>


You and I are on the same page. I wanted to point out another scenario that most often gets overlooked. This is true for most any type of storage. Sometime back when I purchased a used cell phone the seller didn't wipe their removable microSD card. What could have been a rather compromising situation for an individual if a couple of intriguing videos surfaced wasn't because I did the right thing. I also notified them and said next time you sell something clear and clean it...they denied the content :)

This is incredible! I love this software already! :)
Have you ever had files just disappearing from the memory card before?
I was looking though the images of one of my recent weddings and i noticed that i was missing an entire camera. long shots we all gone from the ceremony! so i went back and looked through my files and my memory cards (even the ones i didnt bring with me to the wedding. :P haha) and i couldn't find them at all.
PhotoRec is awesome, it managed to find my lost photos in one of my memorycards, but i wonder why it happen? has that ever happen to one of you before?

"We've all been there: files get corrupted"

Then PhotoRec won't do you much good .. Attached will be as corrupt as it is after recovering it ..