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Recover deleted photos, videos and documents

Recover deleted photos, videos and documents
© Amy Walters | Dreamstime.com

Sometimes, things seemingly go from bad to worse when you're dealing with your data. That's why you will love to have this program in your arsenal.

This free file data recovery software is designed to recover lost files including video, documents and archives from hard disks, CD-ROMs, and lost pictures (thus the Photo Recovery name) from digital camera memory (CompactFlash, Memory Stick, Secure Digital/SD, SmartMedia, Microdrive, MMC, etc.).

PhotoRec ignores the file system and goes after the underlying data, so it will still work even if your media's file system has been severely damaged or reformatted. In most cases, PhotoRec can recover the entire file with no problem.

Note: Do not save any files onto your computer after you notice that a photo or document is missing or was accidentally deleted. Saving files overwrites your hard drive with more information, which makes it more difficult to recover the deleted file.

PhotoRec works by combing through your hard drive, looking for the bits of data that make up the document or photo that was deleted. When all the bits of information are gathered, PhotoRec can put them back together and voila! it reassembles your document.

However, if not enough of the item's data can be recovered, then it is lost and not even PhotoRec can get it back. It's very important that you stop everything to recover your item the moment you discover that it's gone.

This means that when you run PhotoRec, you need to send the recovered data to a different storage device than the one it's searching because you will overwrite and corrupt the data you're searching.

Download Instructions

To download the program, click here to navigate to the PhotoRec download page. Once there, click the download link in the upper left corner and then click on the large green button labeled "TestDisk 7.1 Free download."

Note: PhotoRec is paired with a program called TestDisk that recovers lost partitions and makes non-booting disks bootable again. To use TestDisk, you can learn how with the step-by-step instructions here.

When the download is finished, extract the files from the zipped folder. After you extract the files, open the folder and locate the PhotoRec_Win application.

Before you continue, you should create a new folder on your desktop to hold the files that PhotoRec recovers. Label it something easy to identify like "PhotoRec recovered files."

When you run PhotoRec for the first time, don't despair. I know that this stripped-down program looks scary, but if you follow the step-by-step instructions you can recover the files you need without mishap.

You will need to use the arrow keys and the enter button to navigate the program once it's open. The first screen will show the available drives for scanning. This will also include USB and connected external drives if they are plugged in.

Your first screen will look something like the image below.


Select the drive that you want to scan by using the arrow keys and hit the Enter button to make the selection. It's faster to scan a partition of the storage device instead of the entire thing.

After the drive to be scanned has been selected, like your camera storage card, PhotoRec needs to know the file system type it will be searching. It will default to the "Other" selection, I recommend using the default selection unless you know that your system is a different type.

When you reach the screen that says "Please choose if all space needs to be analyzed" select the "Free" option to scan only the NTFS unallocated space. This means that PhotoRec will be searching the recently vacated spaces for the photos or documents that were just lost due to accidental deletion.

It will look something like the image below.


The next screen will ask you to select a drive for the recovered files to be sent. Use the arrow keys to scroll up and down the list, and tap the left arrow key to go all the way back to your main hard drive - labeled C:\ - to access any folder.

You should navigate back to your C:\ drive and go to Documents and Settings >> Desktop to find the folder you created on your Desktop before you started PhotoRec. When the correct file is identified, press "C" on the keyboard to make your selection.

PhotoRec will start scanning the selected drive right away. There are usually a lot of files to scan, so it can take upwards of 15 to 30 minutes.

This is normal, let PhotoRec perform the scan without interference. But if the scan is projecting to take longer than a couple of hours, then you may have accidentally selected to scan your entire computer drive or an unpartitioned drive on your computer.

In that case, press Enter to stop the PhotoRec process and go back to the main screen.

Note: If you run into any trouble with the program, you can check out the FAQ page here or the Step-by-Step page here.

Bonus tip:

As you can see, using PhotoRec to recover files can be difficult for anyone who isn't a tech expert. There is an easier way. We recommend using our sponsor IDrive.

Backing up your critical data is an important safety precaution in the fight against cybercriminals. It's the best way to recover your files without paying a ransom if disaster strikes.

With IDrive, you can backup all your PCs, Macs and mobile devices into ONE account for one low cost! Go to IDrive.com and use promo code Kim to receive an exclusive offer.

Click here to receive the special discount.

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