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Dealing With Photography Data Loss

In business, just like in life, there will be what I call “oh crap” moments. In the photography business those moments tend to happen when you lose photos. There’s a tendency by some to look back on film days like picture loss didn’t happen back then. Wrong! I probably lost way more pictures to processing errors in film than I’ve ever lost in the digital world. The difference is, when you lost a roll of film, you lost between 18 and 20 pictures, depending on how many backing shots you usually shot. Tragic, but not a total loss for the project.

In the digital world a card failure can spell complete disaster. Under the right circumstances you don’t lose a few pictures from the job, you lose all of them. Just like with film, you can spread the job risk over more than one card, but that also carries risk. Stick with me after the jump for my tips dealing with the realities of digital life.

There are two types of people in the world: Those who have lost pictures and those who are going to lose pictures. Digital storage has a lifetime data flow limit. Run enough data through any solid state storage device and it will fail, period. Data loss is a virtual guarantee but your data handling processes and how you react to an emergency can determine whether you lose one or two pictures or hundreds.

Always Carry Spares

I carry spare data cards taped to my camera strap in case I have a card issue when I’m away from my camera bag. If you have a good system, it’s totally okay to spread your shoot over more than one card.

Copy Pictures During The Event

If you have an assistant, you can implement copying and checking photos while you’re still working the job. Don’t erase anything until you have multiple verified backups at the office. Checking and copying your files right on the job ensures that you’ll be able to reshoot anything that didn’t come out right, for any reason. Not all your problems may be storage related. I once shot most of my way through a job without noticing I had a polarizing filter on my lens. <facepalm>


If you get any kind of a card error, stop. Don’t turn your camera on and off, don’t take the card out or try to reseat it. Don’t do any of that. Just stop. Take the bad card out and use one of your spares. The biggest mistake people make when faced with a card problem is they compound the failure by trying to get the card to work again.


There are some excellent software programs out there for recovering data. Recuva is a program that is the first piece of software many photographers will turn to in an attempt to recover data on a bad card. Keep in mind that a damaged card may only work once or twice or not at all once it goes bad. If it’s really important, send it to a data recovery company right away.

Another option is runtime.org. These tools have been successful for many and they offer tools for a range of devices, including backup and RAID arrays.

Data Recovery Services

If your data recovery options don’t work or you choose not to risk trying one of them, then your next stop is a professional data recovery service like salvagedata.com. If the pictures are really critical, this may be your first stop. Keep in mind data recovery can cost hundreds of dollars and it’s not fast. But it can be worth it recover once-in-a-lifetime photos.

The main thing is to not panic if you have a card problem and just stop what you’re doing and address the issue back home.

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