Magazine Article


Photos Gone in a Flash?
Data Recovery Options for Media Cards and Hard Drives


One Sunday afternoon, following an Atlanta Falcons win over the Arizona Cardinals, Paul Abell noticed that three of his CompactFlash cards were corrupting upon download to his computer. The sports photographer was on deadline for US Presswire, and it was critical that his images be available during and immediately following the game. But once the cards were corrupted, they no longer showed any signs of being filled with data. It was as if they were formatted clean.

"Unfortunately, the solutions that I had with me at the time were not cooperating and were taking quite some time to process, if they were at all," said Abell.

That evening, after reading several reviews, Abell purchased Picture Rescue from Prosoft Engineering, and within one hour, he recovered over 4 gigs of data in both RAW and JPEG formats.

"Much to my surprise, my RAW files were completely editable, as if they had never been lost," added Abell.

Soon after Scott Tallyn, photographer and owner of Tallyn's Professional Data Recovery Services, begrudgingly switched to digital, he experienced his first glitch when he put a card in the reader after an assignment, only to find the card was blank. "My heart sank down into my shoes, and sheer panic set inůmy images were gone," said Tallyn. "These pictures were not something I could reshoot or reschedule." He never let that happen again.

Many photographers aren't as lucky as Abell was. They don't realize that, even though one of the less-expensive or free software programs may not be able to retrieve "lost" images, paying a little more money for a proper program could be an image-maker's saving grace.

With all the convenience that the digital age has provided, it brings with it grave risks to data-primarily because if you don't print the images, all you have are the files. While backing up onto CDs and DVDs is probably the safest and easiest insurance for protecting data, photos, and videos, what if that isn't enough?

Search and Recover

Market research from IDC forecasts that more than 200 billion digital images were taken in 2007; additional research from the Photo Marketing Association indicates nearly two-thirds of those images will not be printed, but will be stored only in digital format. This invites all sorts of opportunity for the monster of all digital glitches: data/image loss or damage.

There are two scenarios as it relates to data/image recovery. Overwritten data is basically impossible to retrieve, but it can be prevented. Data that has been deleted, reformatted, or corrupted, however, is salvageable, and there are plenty of options to retrieve the image and data files.

"In most cases, the original file still exists on the storage media-it simply is not visible to the user," explained Tallyn. "Data recovery locates and extracts the lost information."

Rather than jetting to the nearest fix-it store, where one may pay as much as $4,000 for a repair, experts agree that photographers should try to recover data themselves using an appropriate program. It's important to try multiple recovery programs, as one program may be able to recover a certain image that another cannot. "If all this doesn't work," said John Santoro, Lexar's senior product marketing manager, "it's best to contact a professional or a company's customer service [department]."

What Abell had discovered on his own trying night was a product by Prosoft Engineering. Today, the company's leading software, Klix, is designed specifically for digital picture recovery (Data Rescue is designed for hard-drive recovery). This cross-platform technology can help if media card corruption is suspected-for instance, if you're having a hectic day of shooting and a media card gets reformatted or erased from a prior shoot. These are easy to recover with good data recovery software.

The way it works seems simple enough. If 100 photos are taken at a big shoot the day before, and the next day 10 photos are taken, the software will be able to find photos 11 through 100 from the day before. One way to avoid card corruption is not to turn off a camera when it's still writing to the card (when the infamous "card error" message appears).

"Both beginners and professionals with the best cameras, time after time, will make this card reader error by taking out the card when it's still writing-and it can be so easily prevented," said Gordon Bell, general manager of Prosoft Engineering and JoeSoft. Klix, for example, works by being able to see what's on the card and unscrambling it.

A photographer with a Lexar Professional memory card may be able to try Lexar's Image Rescue 3 immediately after data is lost, since it's a free download for Lexar's customers. The software queries each memory-cell location on the flash memory card. When the software notices the header location of a photo, it determines what kind of image it is and begins recovery. Data is unrecoverable with Image Rescue, however, if there is physical damage to the flash memory or if the microprocessor is corrupt.

"The important thing to remember if you're in the middle of a shoot and get an error message is to stop using the card," said Santoro. "Switch to another card and continue the job. Also, don't attempt to reformat the damaged card," he added.
Other common human errors that may cause data loss include sharing the same media card between two different cameras; neglecting to change batteries when they get low; pushing the preview button before the camera has finished writing information; opening the access door; and breaking the communication between a PC and media card.

A corrupt card "is like your local shopping mall directory, and the stores represent the pictures," explained Bell. "The card is a messed-up store directory, but the stores are still intact. The computer and camera are bypassing the store directory and scanning the entire card."

Combating Major Losses

Prosoft's Data Rescue is crashed-drive recovery software. "The only time it may not be able to help is if the damage is due to a physical problem, like if it was dropped or has wind or water damage," said Bell. Able to bypass even the most severe virus to boot and scan the hard drive, the technology is being utilized by photographers, as well as rocket scientists, the FBI, and the CIA.

"What's cool about this is we have a Ĺtry it before you buy it' demo," added Bell. Customers are able to download it for free-it will let them know if it's able to recover files, and even let them access one of the retrievals for free.

"We have a pretty broad customer base," said Bell. "It's not just a work thing. If you lose images of your kid's first two years of life, well, that's a pretty big disappointment for a lot of folks."

Rather than backing up once, try redundant backups. "DVDs and hard drives are a good form of redundant backup," said Lexar's Santoro. Another option is backing up data on the internet. Many companies, including Lexar (Backup n Sync), provide software that will back up data onto the internet.

When first experiencing a data loss, Tallyn agreed that the most important step may seem like common sense, but it's a step that's often ignored. "Do not continue using the device," he said. "If you continue to use your storage device after discovering missing information, there's a good change you will be writing over lost data. Once the data has been written over, it is completely gone-there is no chance of a full recovery."

When all else fails, consult a professional recovery service, as mentioned earlier, "but be forewarned that many of them are expensive," said Tallyn.