Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Even when traveling (or especially when traveling!), backing up is still important. A backup strategy would have saved these vacation photos.

I just came back from vacation. I had over 2400 photos on my memory card. When I went to off-load the photos to my computer, the card was reading blank. I know that I did not reformat the card. Is there any hope for me to recover the pictures that I took?

In this excerpt from Answercast #49, I look at a camera memory card that has lost vacation photos. You can be sure I mention backups!

Lost photos

The best I can offer is: maybe.

What I would suggest you do is three things:

  • One is I would take that memory card to a different computer and see if a different computer can actually make sense of it.

If so, copy that data off immediately and back it up.

  • Second, I would try a data recovery utility like Recuva. I have a link to Recuva in one of my other articles.

What it will do is try and look at the data that it can see on the memory card, see if it can make sense of it, and see if it can recover any of the files there-on. If it can, absolutely! Copy them off immediately.

  • Finally, and I know that this is painful, but if these pictures are important to you, you might want to look into locating a data recovery service.

They may be able to recover data from that memory card that more traditional tools that you and I have access to would not be able to get.

Travel backup strategy

Now, I do have to point out that 2400 pictures on a single memory card? Boy! I mean this sounds like really rude... but you're asking for trouble. You just are.

When I went on a trip a few years ago and I knew that I was going to be taking a lot of pictures, I actually put together a fairly detailed approach to how I backed that up as I went along.

  • There really is no substitute for a backup;

  • And traveling is unfortunately not an excuse to not back up.

Many people use it as one. They'll just say, "It will last while I'm on my trip." But as you've seen, that isn't necessarily true.

So, I would definitely investigate (for future trips) that you make sure to have some kind of an approach to backing up your pictures as you travel.

If it is in one place...

  • If it is only in one place;

  • In other words, if it's only on a SD card - if it's only in your camera;

  • Then the data's not backed up;

  • And you run the risk of losing all of the pictures that you've taken on your trip.

So, that's the lesson to learn from here. I hope that one or two of of the techniques that I mentioned earlier will recover the data for you. If not, my only hope then will be to send you to a data recovery service and be prepared to spend a little bit of money to try and get those pictures back.

Article C5761 - September 1, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

September 1, 2012 4:17 PM

" I actually put together a fairly detailed approach to how I backed that up as I went along." Are you going to tell us what the plan was? ;-)

Mark J
September 1, 2012 10:01 PM

The first link in the "You may also be interested in" list: How did you backup while on your trip? explains that backup strategy.

September 4, 2012 9:58 AM

Hey - I forgot to put my chip in my camera and it was a few pictures before I noticed the error showing up that there wasn't any memory to save the pictures to. Anyway I can recover those? (just kidding - true story - but those are lost). I do two things. I take multiple chips and swap them out after every few pictures. That way if one goes bad, I still will have pictures from that portion of my picture taking - just not all of them. I also bring along my laptop and copy to my harddrive. You should also mention that he should see if he can still see the pictures with his chip back in the camera. If so, maybe he can connect the camera to his computer and download through USB instead of off the memory chip.

Peter B
September 4, 2012 2:30 PM

One of the best places to check the memory card content is back in the original camera. If there's any device that might be able to read it, that is it.

September 4, 2012 8:50 PM

I thought Leo's help and advice, in what looked a hopeless case to me, to be great - keep it up Leo

Peter B
September 5, 2012 6:55 AM

When I am going any distance and not returning home the same day, I take my laptop and down load the pictures at the end of each day then do another backup to a 40 gig external drive every few days. I download them for two reasons, firstly to view them on the laptop same day, and secondly in case I loose the card or the camera is lost or stolen or someother disaster occurs.

September 5, 2012 8:02 AM

Something as simple as 'access rights' can seriously mess up your file list. I have had cases where I can only see a file while I am saving another - every 'view' of the problem directory / file says there is nothing there.
Try different Pc's, check the camera shows there are pics actually on the card to begin with, and remember next time Leo's advice to backup, backup, backup!
A bigger basket does not mean you should always fill it with eggs...

Don Whiteley
September 5, 2012 8:47 AM

I teach a course n basic digital cameras to senior citizens. Several of my students have accidentally formatted a card containing valuable trip photos. I was able to use a program "Recovery My Files" to restore nearly all the 700+ photos on the formatted cards. As a test, I deliberately erased photos on one of my Sony Memory Stick cards and tried the recovery. I not only recovered the newly erased ones but also groups of photos taken months ago before the card was formatted several times.

September 5, 2012 2:09 PM

If the pictures still show on the camera, the problem may be with the card reader. Older card readers will not read the newer high capacity cards. (2gig or higher which this sounds like it is) They show as blank. The answer then is to use the camera cable to download or get a new card reader.
Recuva (free from Piriform) and other recovery programs work well for recovering pictures from cards where they are mistakenly deleted but if the card has become defective then most likely the only option is professional help. (and of course BU BU BU!)

September 9, 2012 1:23 PM

YES!!! Back up your pictures everyday. A couple of months ago I dropped my camera and it got driven over by a 14 ton rock truck. Suffice to say the camera did not survive (even though it said "Crushproof" I use this camera for work and I only download every couple of days. Anyways, the card was bent at a weird angle. I straightened it out the best I could and it worked. I was able to retrieve all the pictures. It still works and is my spare SD card for the new camera.

My personal camera is different. I download and back up religiously.

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