How to Recover Deleted Photos from SD Card for Free

[update: this post was last updated on May 5, 2016. Revised the content for accuracy and removed several dead links.]

I recently received a question from a reader regarding recovering photos deleted from a SD memory card. Here it is:

Question asked by Emily

"Can you help please? I recently deleted some precious photos from my digital camera with a SD memory card inside. I know there are so-called digital photo recovery programs that can retrieve them. So I downloaded and installed a utility to give a try. The result is that the program found my deleted photos I could not save them or use them for anything without buying the program. Wondering if there are some freeware which can help me bring those deleted photos back for free? Your recommendations will be highly appreciated."

Here's my answer

You must be using the demo or trial version of a commercial data recovery software. There are tons of such programs in the market, I have tried a handful. Personally, I feel they are pretty much the same. By that, I mean how they designed the functionality of the software -- usually they offer a trial version (labeled "free download") which allows you to free scan your device i.e. camera SD card, some even allow you to "preview" thumbnails of the found images, but eventually you'll need to get a license to fully recover your photos -- meaning you have to take your credit card out of your pocket :)

Well, I'm not against such kind of commercial software, but I'm tired of seeing their false or over-exaggerated marketing messages (e.g. 100% guarantee, free SD card recovery software, the best data recovery program, etc.)

Okay, back to the topic. Any real freeware to help retrieve deleted pictures from an SD card? Fortunately, the answer is yes.  But before I jump into my recommendations, make sure you have prepared the following conditions for recovery.

Things you'll need:
  1. Your camera SD card.
  2. A personal computer (PC or Mac).
  3. Internet connection (for downloading a data recovery utility).
  4. A bit nerves and time. Get a coffee :)    

Recovering SD Card Photos on a PC

Step 1: remove your SD card out of your camera and connect it to your PC via a card reader (or USB cable), make sure it can be recognized by your computer.

Step 2:  download and install a free Windows data recovery utility on your PC. Recuva is probably the best one out there, Pandora Recovery is also great. Open the link in a new tab, as I've shared a ttutorial on how to use the program in details.

Step 3: scan your SD card, preview, and recover. Note: all the software I recommend above is totally free. 

Recovering SD Card Photos on a Mac

Step 1: likewise, connect your SD card to a Mac machine. Ensure it your card can be detected.

Step 2: download this free app called Exif Untrasher. Note: the app recovers only images in JPEG format. So, if your photos are in RAW format, move yourself to this this free Mac data recovery software list.

Step 3: let the program scan your SD card and you should have no problem recovering any images it finds.  

A couple of things to keep in mind:
  • There is no thing that data recovery software will guarantee 100% recovery rate. Any software providers who claim so are probably scam.
  • To increase your chances of recovery, best to put aside your SD card and do not write any new data to the source card. 
  • Do not damage your SD card as it would make things worse, you could lose all your data if the card can not be detected by a computer. That said, if it's damaged, check out this sd card recovery guide for how to fix it.
  • Always remember to make backups -- the golden rule for data security. Online backup services like Dropbox is great; Traditional external hard drives are also nice options.
Hope my answer is helpful to you. Let me know if you have any further questions.
Post a comment below.   


  1. hi there, I just deleted some photos from sd card and recover it using your advice, it worked, thanks

    1. Hi John.
      Pandora is "not a Win32" program and would not install.

      Recuva acted smooth, was easy to understand and gave false hopes. It 'found' and 'restored' 1075 files. Of those, 15 were viewable (even though no clusters were overwritten for any of the deleted files). Of the 15, 5 were had gray blocks of not fully restored. Odd thing is, the restored & unviewable ones still take up HD space!

      I'm using Stellar Phoenix. It's thoroughly scanning the drive. I can see each photo as it is recovered. So far I'm up to 295, 1/5 complete. Slow, and accurate. Worth the $40.


  2. Thanks for the great answer, I recovered nearly 97% of the deleted photos off my Canon SD card. A huge thanks...

  3. Hi, I've lost my precious holiday photos. But my mistake was I have taken some photos without realizing that the previous photos have been deleted. Is it possible to retrieve the photos or at least some. Thanks in advance.

  4. Thank you so much!!!! I placed my SD card in a multi card reader and didn't removed it properly and I lost all my really precious photos I took at my mom's hometown. I thought it was gone forever! Thanks again!!!!

  5. Hi, I lost a whole bunch of photos and I accidentally took some photos after that and deleted them as well. Now when I realised my previous photos have been deleted, I tried to use the two software you mentioned above to retrieve them. But they only retrieve the photos I took after. How do I retrieve the other bunch of photos???? Please help ASAP!!!!!

  6. I'm the anonymous just above. I used Stellar Photo Recovery and it recovered everything including the photos I took before. But I have to pay to save the photos! Please help me ASAP to find a software which is the same as Stellar to recover my photos? Thanks in advance!

  7. I use card raider on osx platforms, recovered about a hundred photos accidentally deleted from my SD card.

  8. I used iCare Data Recovery Free edition to restored data from sd card and restored my photos. I think everyone should give it a chance for free recovery.

  9. I accidentally deleted (I think I formatted them) some very precious photos from my digital camera. My fiancee is terminally ill & I would really like to try to get these family photos of him back. Is there a FREE download I can use to try to retrieve them. I would pay if I have to but some of the sights were a bit expensive. Hope you can help!!!

  10. Thank you John! I cannot tell you how relieved I am to have used your guide to recover some photos I desperately needed for a job. You are brilliant and Recuva worked a treat in absolutely no time at all.
    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge.

  11. Hi, i deleted my daughters first birthday pictures by a mistake, of her opening presents etc and was wondering how you use this program?? as i would be greatful to have them back.
    Thanks if you can help.

  12. I had to replace my phone after the charging port became defective. When I moved the SD card to the new phone, there are no pictures and it doesn't even recognize there IS an SD card. My phone tech said I need to reformat but not until after I recover the files. Every program I've tried to d/l to recover the files says I need to install an SD card. I'm completely stuck!! Please advise. Thank you!!

  13. Thanks your information. I use Recuva(Totally Free) recovered maybe 50% photos and videoes from formated SD card. Then I tried to use iCare(Free up to 2G data) to recovery the rest which Recuva can not recovered files. iCare can't recover it either. So I think Recuva is the best.

    Thanks again.