Recover Pictures from SD Card

Recently a friend of mine went to Europe and took almost a 1000 pictures that she saved on 2 SD cards.

When she arrived back in the states, one of the cards could not be read by her camera or her PC. The card was corrupted.

She asked me for help as this was a trip of a lifetime and she couldn’t bear to lose those pictures.

I had an idea of how to recover the pictures, but I first searched the internet to see what other people did in this situation.

All their solutions were more complicated than my solution, and I wasn’t sure they would work.

So I tried my solution.

Being the risk-adverse person I am, I first tried the procedure on my own camera and SD card. It worked. So here’s what I did.

To recover the pictures from the SD card:

  1. Inserted the card into my friend’s camera and reformatted it. A message warned me that ALL DATA WOULD BE ERASED.
  2. Inserted the card into my friend’s SD card slot on her computer and ran free recovery software.
  3. All pictures were recovered.

Pretty simple.

This works becauseĀ formatting an SD card or a hard drive really doesn’t erase the files. It just erases the pointers on the drive that tell where to find the files.

For example, assume your SD card is a book. The table of contents are the pointers to the files, and the chapters are the files.

When your format a card or drive, the table of contents is erased, not the files. The formatting builds a new table of contents, but none of the previous files are listed in the table of contents; the table of contents is blank until you save new files.

By using recovery software, it looks for and recovers the files without having a table of contents.


I didn’t mention the free recovery software I used because it is rather old and I couldn’t find it on the Internet any more.

Be careful when you look for free recovery software, as trojans often masquerade as helpful utilities.

I’d recommend one of the programs reviewed by LifeHacker. If my old software would not have worked, I would have tried Recuva. However, I have not tested any of the programs at LifeHacker, so proceed at your own risk.

If you recover your files, stop back and tell me your story.



Filed under How to..., Security

4 responses to “Recover Pictures from SD Card

  1. Eeek…that would have been tough to push that format button with someone else’s files. But you’re right, formatting doesn’t erase the disk. Sadly, too many people think that is a secure way of disposing of data.

    Linux is my primary OS and I’ve used the PhotoRec software with great success. This will not only pull back those ‘lost’ files in your case, but will also retrieve deleted files and files that may have been partially overwritten. It can be extremely thorough and pull back anything that has been deleted. So you need to adjust the settings to only search JPG/PNG files. It runs from the command line – which can be intimidating to some. But it is fairly easy to use.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not too hard since my friend already considered the photos lost. Worth the chance, especially since I tested it with a similar card first. I don’t like to test “in production” like some companies do!


  2. Next time, it may be worth checking out SpinRite. I’m not sure if it would work on an SD card but it will work on SSDs, which are flash based memory as well.


    • Shane,
      Funny, I never thought of that, and I own a copy (which by the way, for the rest of you, is cheap software for $90). But then again, if you don’t have Spinrite, you could save $90.


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