Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Recovering lost photos from a hard disk error, or a user error, can be tricky. Immediately stop using the disk and we'll look at the next steps.
My 16 year old son did a restore and all my photos are gone never to be seen again. It was mostly my daughters trip with her graduating class. What can I do?
Stop Using The Machine
I'll get into why in a moment, but depending on exactly how the files were lost, the more you use your machine the lower your chances of recovery.
What happens next depends on just how important those files were to you.
I'm normally a do-it-yourself kinda guy, but if these files are exceptionally valuable to you as it sounds like the might be, I might suggest investigating data recovery services. The solution might be simple, but it might also be complex. Depending on exactly how tech savvy you are and how comfortable you might be with some of the suggestions below, this might well be a case where professional assistance is the most prudent course.
With that being said, I'll run through some approaches that may, or may not help you get your data back.
There's a critical piece of information missing from the question: what steps lead to the data loss? Yes, you said your son did a restore, but that's actually a vague term. What kind of restore? A restore from a backup? A system restore? If so, to what restore point? A restore of a few files? A partition? What software was used?
You get the idea. There are a number of variables that affect exactly how the data might have been lost, and as a result, the appropriate next steps.
Since many of the possible file loss scenarios result in files actually being deleted, and the space they took on disk being made available for other files, it's important that you stop using the disk as soon as possible after the loss. That's why I started by saying turn off the machine. In fact, what we need to do in a case like this is to actually either boot from a "live CD", which will not write to the disk unless we tell it to do so, or we need to install the hard disk as a second drive in another machine.
When Windows boots, and even when it's running, it's writing to your hard disk, possibly overwriting some of those valuable files. The more you use your hard disk the more likely it is that your files will be overwritten and lost. By putting that disk into a situation where it's no longer being written to, we prevent any further data loss. (If the disk has a physical read-only switch or jumper, now's a great time to use it.)
So, with that disk available in a situation where it won't be written to accidentally:
Search - Use your favorite search tool to search for your photo files on the hard disk. You might get lucky and find that they're not gone at all, but just in an unexpected place as a result of whatever this "recovery" was that was performed. Make sure that your search includes all files and folders, the Recycle Bin and all hidden and system files. For photos, it's likely that searching for "*.jpg" might be enough, but hopefully you'll also know the file names used by your camera or photo software.
Recover - Fire up a tool like Recuva to scan your hard disk for files which have been deleted, but not yet completely overwritten by other files. This is perhaps where you'll spend the most time, since at any given moment there are probably thousands of recoverable or partially recoverable files on your hard disk. You'll need to wade through that list to locate your photos and then use the tools recover ability to get them back. Remember not to write on your hard disk in this process - the very process of recovering one file could cause another to become unrecoverable unless you recover to a different disk.
Pay - Anything beyond those two steps, honestly, is the realm of the professionals. They'll need to know as many specifics as you can give them about what happened, and what the files look like. With luck, and money, they may be able to recover more than you would have on your own.
Two final points about all this.
First: Yes, you could do the Search and Recover steps above without removing the hard disk and placing it into a different machine, or booting from a live CD. It might even work relatively well. It's all about risk. The more you use your hard disk, the greater the risk that you will lose more of your data. How high is that risk? It's impossible to say. It depends on your system configuration, how you use your machine, and even perhaps how full your hard disk is.
For maximum chances of recovery, you need to stop writing to the hard disk asap.
Second: you should have been backing up. If that hard disk was the only place those pictures were stored, you were asking for disaster. This time it was your son's "recovery", but something else less preventable could easily have happened later. Hard disks do die, and occasionally when they die they take everything with them with no chance of recovery.
If you'd been backing up regularly this simply would not have been the issue that it has become for you.
If nothing else, please take that away from all this.
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