I just accidentally deleted four months of personal and family pictures.

I was trying to clean up our poor, almost full hard drive (we’re running at 91% capacity these days, mostly full of pictures) after finishing the processing of Nichole’s session. I backed up all the files twice (one for storage here, one for storage off-site), like I do with all my sessions, and then started deleting the files I no longer needed to keep on the computer: the RAW, digital negatives and massive Photoshop documents.

I right-clicked on the folder of the RAW files and selected “Delete.” The computer thought for a second, told me the folder was too big to put in the recycle bin, so did I want to delete it permanently. This didn’t strike me as that odd–RAW files are, after all, quite large. I really didn’t see any need for them in the future, so I said yes, go ahead and delete them.

I watched as another window come up and start listing the files as they were being permanently deleted, bypassing the Recycle Bin on their way out of my life. I noticed something odd in the hundreds of files that were flashing by: none of them should be there. These were the names of folders containing personal and family pictures, not Nichole’s session!

I hit cancel about as fast as I could, but it was too late: I had already lost about 10 GB of family pictures, equating to the last four months’ worth of photography. As a habit, I back up my photo sessions as soon as I get home and don’t delete the originals off the card until they are safely backed up in a number of locations, just in case. Not so with the family stuff, however. I checked the Recycle Bin, but there was nothing there.

Fortunately, from reading past forums and discussion board postings from other photographers, I know this is not the first time that someone has accidentally wiped valuable photos from their computer, so I started searching the internet for help. I knew that the files I had deleted were still on the hard drive, and that they would be until something else was written over the same physical spot on the disk. All I needed was a tool that would look past all of the signals that said the files weren’t there, and there they would be.

A very short time later, I was downloading Pandora Recovery, a free personal file recovery tool. I installed it to my external hard drive (so I wouldn’t be writing over any of the deleted pictures with the new software) and started it up. It immediately showed me where on my computer I could find deleted files, and there they were. This lovely, easy-to-use program very quickly recovered about 95% of my pictures. Some of them couldn’t be recovered because they had already been partially written on, but most of them are back, safe and sound.

Well, at least, they will be safe…once I get around to actually backing them up.

I keep thinking there’s a lesson to be learned in all of this…