Q. I recently tried to move vacation photos from my camera’s SD card to an external hard drive, via my Mac. It seemed as if everything had been transferred, so I deleted the content from the cards so I could reuse them. However, when I plugged my external hard drive in to look at the photos, the pictures weren’t there and I still haven’t found them! Any ideas as to how to get them back?
A. Search the external drive thoroughly and check whether the pictures copied to a different location than the one you thought you were using. Look in the Trash, too, as the photos may have inadvertently gotten dumped in there if you ejected the card by dragging it to the Trash icon. Also, confirm that the pictures did not automatically import elsewhere when you connected the camera — like to the Mac’s Photos app, iCloud or a backup photo service.
If you have done all that and the photos are still missing, consider dedicated file-recovery software to track down and salvage any surviving files on the camera’s memory card or the external drive. While the files may appear to be gone, they may still be lurking out of normal view.
When a file gets marked for deletion, it disappears from the regular view in your computer’s directory, but usually sticks around on the card or drive until enough new files are copied into the same space to overwrite the old file. File-recovery software can deeply scan the drive or memory card to find deleted files that are not fully gone — and rescue them. However, these programs work best if you do not copy any new files to the memory card or external drive, thus reducing the chance of overwriting the missing files.
File-recovery programs vary widely, and you can find several quickly with a web search. Some memory-card makers sell their own software (like Lexar’s Image Rescue program), while commercial programs like Disk Drill and Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery have free trial versions you can sample. You can also find free software like PhotoRec (operated from the Mac’s command-line interface); Recuva is a similar, inexpensive program for Windows, and there are many others.