Recovering the Photographs

On Thursday night my family and I attended a beautiful wedding on the beach of Lake Michigan. The bride was a former student of mine, our kids’ babysitter, and a dear friend, so I was especially anxious about being entrusted with the role of “official” photographer. I wanted to make sure that the bride and groom had a photographic record of the event that at least approximated what they remembered.

The night before the wedding I recharged the digital camera’s battery and packed a film camera and an extra set of batteries, just in case something disastrous happened. I unloaded all the photos from the 6GB Hitachi microdrive and set it carefully back into the camera. Two 256MB CF cards would serve as backup. I felt pretty confident that everything would go smoothly.

The beach setting was gorgeous, and the bride and groom and all the attendants and families were gracious as I took some formal shots before the ceremony. Other than a few drops of rain, everything went off without a hitch—unless you count the one involving the bride and groom. The reception, too, was lovely, even during the 30 minutes or so of rain when the guests scrambled back to the cottage for cover.

But then something strange happened. The camera stopped working. No matter what I tried, it wouldn’t snap any more pictures. When I looked at the LED screen, I saw a blinking “CHA.” Could it mean the camera needed to be charged? No. It would have shown a blinking battery indicator. Was the memory card full? It was too unlikely that I’d filled 6GB in the few hours I was taking pictures. I pulled the card out and threw in a backup. Everything worked fine with the new card, which was a relief. But what was the problem with the other one? I’d have to wait until the next day to find out.

The next day I plugged the card into my computer to take a look at the files and transfer them over to my hard drive. I clicked on the folder containing the photos. Nothing happened. I clicked again. An error message popped up. The folder was unreadable; files were either corrupted or missing. Uh oh. The pit that had been forming in my stomach thrusted its way into my throat.

A quick check of the drive’s properties showed that 4GB of its space had been filled. Clearly there was something on it. Little good it would do me, though, if I couldn’t open the folder. Dragging the drive’s contents over to the computer’s hard drive didn’t work either. So, I went to Google and searched for file recovery. The results were promising, as it looked like I was far from alone in my plight and a number of companies had created software to bring back files from the dead.

The first software I downloaded, a freeware program, balked about halfway through the scan of the microdrive and stopped working altogether in subsequent tries. The second and third programs allowed for the downloading of a demo version that would show me what they could recover but wouldn’t let me save the files until I shelled out some bucks. Neither of them worked.

I decided to try one more before giving up, mostly because a couple other web sites had recommended it. The program, PHOTORECOVERY by LC Technology, operated the same way as the second and third programs, so I downloaded it and ran the scan, feeling not the least bit hopeful. To my surprise, though, it started showing the very first pictures I had taken with the microdrive— pictures that I had already deleted months ago. But the first program had shown a few pictures, too, before it crashed.

PHOTORECOVERY kept going and going. And going. I let it continue scanning in the background, and when I looked at it again a couple hours later it had completed its scouring of the drive and found over 1,600 photos. I zipped back to the LC Technology website, paid my $40, and scanned the microdrive again. This time, as it found the photos, it saved them to the hard drive folder of my choice. The photos were restored. All of them. Every photo from the wedding, and every other photo that I had ever taken with that memory card. For the first time since the ordeal began, I smiled.

just married

I’m still not sure what corrupted the files in the first place, but after I got all the pictures off, I reformatted the microdrive from within the camera, and everything seems to be working fine again. A few websites recommend reformatting memory cards every once in a while anyway (keeping in mind that it erases everything currently on the card and makes it a LOT harder to recover those files later). Apparently, reformatting every so often helps avoid the kind of file corruption that happened with mine. The good news, though, is that if your photo files ever do get corrupted, or if you accidentally delete them, and you really, really need them, there is a good chance that you’ll be able to get them back—with a little perseverance and luck.

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6 Responses to Recovering the Photographs

  1. Sarah G says:

    Wow, scary.  Jeff and I almost always format our memory card
    after copying photos to one of our computers.  I never really
    thought to ask why, except it seemed like a slightly more efficient way
    to clean up.  But maybe Jeff knew about the file corruption
    issue…  Glad you got the pictures back!

  2. Nicole says:

    Oh my word, Karl…
    I wanted to throw up reading this! What an anxiety-riddled experience. You set up the story really well, as I felt that heart-pounding blob of dread as it unfolded. I am super glad ad strangely grateful for the happy ending.

  3. Aunt Ginny says:

    Amazing, Karl! Nice to have your own computer geek troubleshooter inside your very own skin! Good for your sleuthing until your found the photos. And what a beautiful shot on the page! You amaze me.

  4. Nicole says:

    Hi, it’s Nicole again…

    I realized, sheepishly, that I failed to comment on the beauty of the photo of Anne’s wedding that you posted.  It’s lovely, Karl, really stunning. 

    You’re hired for my wedding, tentatively planned for 2040..if I’m lucky…




  5. Karl says:

    Hey, thanks for the compliments on the photo. It helps to have beautiful weather and gorgeous subject matter. 

  6. anne says:

    Karl…I could never be more thankful that you are such a computer geek. Thank you so much for taking the photos and pouring your time into recovering them. I am looking forward to seeing the rest of them. :)

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