Recover Lost Files: Tips, Prevention, and Client Communication

Written by
August 29, 2023

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably lost some important files before or want to ensure this never happens to you. Almost every photographer has experienced the terrible feeling of file loss once or twice, so you’re not alone! Take a deep breath. Things may not be as bad as they seem. There are plenty of options for pulling lost or corrupted files from SD cards or other storage media.

This blog will give you some tips to attempt recovery of your missing images, share strategies to reduce the risk of data loss in the future, and even advise how to work with your client if you cannot recover your images.

Recovery Options

First things first: if you can’t retrieve the files you’re looking for, don’t immediately assume all hope is lost. Several easy-to-use software options may solve your problems right at home in the studio, and when you need a little more help, you can send your SD card or external hard drive to a data recovery service. These services are ideal if the card is physically damaged and can’t be read by your computer. No method is guaranteed, but it’s comforting to have hope.

Even if you accidentally deleted files or reformatted a card, the files may not be permanently lost even if you can’t view them. Initially deleting or formatting only removes the indexing information for an image, not the image itself. A temporary memory stores the pictures and overwrites them during future card use.

If you cannot pull files from your memory card, make sure to STOP USING IT IMMEDIATELY and try one of the following options.

Leading Manufacturers and Software 

Most popular memory card manufacturers offer a data recovery tool that often saves the day. Some will only work with the brand’s cards, while others may work with all types of cards regardless of the brand. Outside of the manufacturer options, several other programs are designed for this purpose. If you use a newer Windows computer, a free tool is available. 

  • Lexar: The free Lexar Recovery Tool is compatible with Windows and MacOS and can recover deleted files from memory cards and flash drives.
  • Sony: Memory Card File Rescue works on Windows and Mac and can be downloaded at no cost.
  • SanDisk: SanDisk has partnered with LC Technology to offer SanDiskRescuePRO and RescuePRO deluxe. The applications are PC and Mac compatible but require an annual licensing fee. The trial version will only show you a list of files that can be recovered.
  • ProGrade Digital: Similar to SanDisk’s applications, ReoveryPro offers a free trial to confirm the availability of files, but the tool requires a license to recover the images.
  • Delkin: Delkin has also partnered with LC Technology on its PHOTORECOVERY software for Windows and Mac. A free trial will show you recoverable data, but actual recovery requires a license.
  • Transcend: RecoverRx is a user-friendly tool that is free to download and works on Windows and Mac computers. 
  • Windows File Recovery: Windows 10 and later users already have a tool available that may solve the dilemma. Windows File Recovery has a “Signature” mode specifically designed for external storage devices like camera cards. Be advised that this is a command-line program with no user interface, so this option is best if you’re already comfortable working in the Windows terminal.

Other Software

Searching for data recovery software can be confusing. There are a ton of options and websites that list the “best” applications to use if you experience data loss. Keep in mind that many of these websites receive commissions to list items, so do your research and ask colleagues for their recommendations before choosing a solution. 

Here are a few well-known, popular options:

  • Recuva: Windows users love this powerful software designed by the makers of CCleaner. The basic version is free to use, and the interface makes finding and recovering files easy after installation. 
  • Stellar Photo Recovery: Rated “Excellent” on Trustpilot, Stellar Photo Recovery has a powerful reputation for recovering files, whether deleted, corrupted, or formatted over. The easy-to-use application does require an annual subscription to recover files, but you can download a trial version to pre-scan your media and determine the likelihood of retrieving your images. 
  • EaseUs: One of the most popular data recovery applications, Data Recovery Wizard boasts a simple interface and powerful tools for restoring lost images. This tool works with both Windows and Mac computers. Though it is relatively expensive compared to many available applications, users swear by its consistency and performance.

Recovering Images From Damaged SD Cards

Sometimes an SD card is physically damaged, and your computer or camera simply cannot read it. A damaged card can be the most frustrating problem because it generally takes time to determine if the files can be recovered. It can also be expensive.

If your SD card is damaged and unreadable, consider looking into one of these services:

  • DriveSavers: Since 1985, DriveSavers has been recovering data on all types of storage, from SD cards to servers. The company offers an upfront service estimate and free shipping and does not charge if your data is unrecoverable.
  • ACE Data Recovery: ACE Data Recovery is also experienced with all types of data loss. Standard recovery times are 5-7 business days, but they also offer expedited recovery if you are in a bind with a client. ACE Data Recovery does not charge for evaluation; you only pay if they recover your data.
  • Gillware Data Recovery: Gillware is known for successfully performing the most challenging data recovery projects. The company’s shipping, evaluation, recovery processes, and policies are similar to others we have listed, but Gillware says they can succeed where others can’t. 

Backups: One is None, Two is One

When it comes to backing up your photos, the most common rule of thumb goes: “One is none, two is one, three is two, etc.” Basically, if you only have your images backed up once, it’s about as good as no backup at all.

As a professional photographer, it’s imperative to incorporate backups, redundancy, and effective media management into your workflow. Here are some methods to prevent file loss.

Dual SD Shooting

Most modern cameras come equipped with two SD slots. Treating the second SD card as redundant storage instead of overflow space is a smart strategy to prevent data loss and enhance your workflow.

On top of guarding against an SD card failure, it also protects you against human errors like inadvertently deleting images or formatting a card before you are ready.

Multiple Backups & Media Management

Effective media management is crucial, considering the high volume of photographs you will capture on each picture day. You should store and backup everything on external hard drives to prevent data loss in the event of a computer crash.

Your storage should be well organized with folder structures and naming conventions that will enable you to locate the data for which you are looking. Keywords like year, event, client, and project name are very helpful. Just as you back up your SD cards while shooting, you should utilize a redundant system, like cloud storage, to ensure one catastrophic event will not cause data loss. 

For example, each job’s group of files could be stored on the following: working hard drive, mirrored on-site backup, RAID (short for redundant array of independent disks) storage, as well as an off-site cloud backup. If you’re going the RAID route, our team suggests a minimum of RAID 1 (with 5 being ideal), Synology for NAS, and OWC for direct storage. For cloud backups, Backblaze is an excellent solution offering unlimited storage and regular automated backups for just $7 monthly. 

Whatever solution you choose, be sure to back up your files regularly. The longer they sit in temporary storage, the more likely you are to lose them.

Benefits of Tethered Shooting

One potential way to avoid data loss due to SD card issues is by shooting tethered. This technique involves directly connecting your camera to your laptop computer on picture day via a data cable. Each image you capture is then directly transmitted to your computer. 

It’s important to note that not all tethering software allows you to save the images to both your camera and computer at the same time—be sure to verify that the files are saving both places not just on your computer. In this case, since the images are immediately transferred and stored on both your camera SD card and computer, you don’t have to worry about an underperforming memory card or even accidental reformatting. 

File organization is also simplified since you can create a folder for the day’s session and have everything automatically saved in the correct spot. Tethering can improve the client experience by allowing the subject to see a preview of the images—while you also have the additional benefit of ensuring accurate focus, exposure, expressions, and poses on a larger screen.

Most newer Canon and Nikon cameras easily enable tethering. Other manufacturers support the technique as well. Be advised that Canon offers a free utility for tethered shooting, while Nikon’s solution requires a paid license. There are also a few accessories you will want to consider.

Platforms That Support Tethered Shooting

Several paid and free tools support tethered shooting and simplify it for you. Be aware that not all platforms are compatible with all cameras. Whatever you choose, check your computer frequently on picture day to ensure the software is keeping up with the demand of your volume photo shoot.

Paid Options

  • Adobe Lightroom: Despite its cost, the editing capabilities and tethered shooting support Adobe Lightroom offers make it practically a must-have for volume photographers. Following a few simple steps, you will be ready to capture and organize a day’s worth of images quickly and efficiently.
  • Smartshooter 5: Tether Tools has developed this efficient software that is Windows and Mac compatible and supports many camera models, including Canon, Nikon, FujiFilm, Ricoh, and Sony. 
  • Capture One Pro: This powerful all-in-one tool supports tethered shooting and efficient file storage and offers an array of photo-editing tools. Capture One Pro is a pricier option, but many photographers appreciate the stability and capability of the platform. You can use their 30-day free trial to see if it suits your studio.

Free Options

  • digiCamControl: This powerful software captures images via tether and gives you complete remote control of other settings like timers, shutter speed, and aperture adjustment. The digiCamControl software is open-source and completely free to use. 
  • Darktable: Darktable captures images and has a powerful editor built-in. This system is developed by photographers for photographers and constantly adds features to simplify photography workflows.
  • CaptureGrid: Mac and Windows users can utilize CaptureGrid to support many Canon, Nikon, and Sony cameras. Using remote interactions, photographers can control camera operation, enjoy live views, and manage filenames through a quick setup interface.

Communicating With Clients When Data Is Lost

Like any business setback, proactive communication is critical. Letting your client know that you have encountered a problem and offering potential solutions is much more trustworthy than having a client ask you why there is a delay in receiving their images.

If you think you have lost files, first attempt recovery via software or a reputable recovery service if necessary. If these solutions do not work, inform your client immediately. Outline the steps you have taken to attempt to solve the problem and what will need to be done moving forward.

Be apologetic, transparent, and sincere. Since a reshoot will be the only way to reproduce the images, you should offer this to the organization at no charge to compensate for their inconvenience. This is an excellent time to check your contracts—do you have a clause discussing protocol for lost data?

You could send an email or speak to them with words like:

Dear [Client],

While preparing the photos from our picture day at your location, I determined that a technical error led to the loss of several images.Losing images is every photographer’s biggest fear. I cannot express how apologetic I am that this occurred at your [school/dance studio/league]. I have devoted several resources to recovering the missing images, but all possible methods were unsuccessful, making a reshoot our only option. I apologize for this inconvenience. I would like to make this situation right by offering your organization a full reshoot free of charge and also compensating families by providing one free digital download per subject. Thank you for your understanding. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for scheduling the alternate picture day.

Sincerely, [Studio Owner]

How you react to a challenge is more important than the challenge itself. Most clients will accept your sincere apology and willingness to do everything possible to remedy the situation.

Losing memory card data is a photographer’s worst nightmare—card malfunctions, physical damage, and human error can feel like the end of the world. The good news is that data recovery is possible in many cases, whether through a software download or by sending it to an outside company.

Either way, the satisfaction of getting your images back is worth the effort. You can take many steps to minimize the risk of losing your valuable photographs, and we recommend further researching your options and quickly implementing them into your studio’s workflow. With a foundation of backups and redundancy set up, you’ll be able to focus on delivering beautiful memories to happy clients.

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