How I recovered my photos and much of the metadata with a few tools (Part 1)

There I was looking to centralize all the storage in my house on a Windows Home Server. I have 8 hard drives that were scattered among 4 PCs and it was just getting impossible to manage in any sane way. As part of this process, I was taking all but one of the hard drives out of each PC while at the same time carefully managing the process of backing the important data on each one into the free space amongst the others.

The Problem

Where I ran into problems is when I went to bed one night during this process. When I woke up the next morning I forgot that I hadn’t finished completely backing up one of the most important hard drives in the house. So, I went ahead with my plan and formatted it.

Big mistake.

It was a little while before I realized what I had done and by the time I did realize it, I had already installed a fresh copy of Vista on it and a few applications. As anyone who has tried to recover data before will tell you, the first thing you should do after accidentally formatting/deleting data is immediately stop writing data to the hard drive!

This hard drive contained all of our personal photos. While the fact that these were personal photos was bad enough, what was even worse was that a huge portion of them (gigabytes) were photos that my wife had spent countless hours manually scanning in and she was in the process of organizing and labeling them.

Getting the data back

So, after realizing my error, I immediately shut off the computer and removed the hard drive.  While I knew the general ideas behind data recovery, I wasn’t really aware of what I should do next, so I hit the internet and did some research.  After awhile I decided to put the hard drive into another PC and try out some various utilities I had come across to scan it and see what kind of data could be recovered.  This turned out to be an exercise in frustration, as all the tools I used just turned out reams of information that would of taken me years to go through and find anything of use.

I was beginning to brace myself for the inevitable storm that would follow after telling my wife that all the photos were gone.  At this point, a friend of mine pointed me towards a tool called PhotoRec.  At a high level, PhotoRec operates like many data recovery tools in that it looks at the unused space on your hard drive for orphaned data, which is often the data you had on their previously.  Where PhotoRec saved me was that it was written specifically to recognize photo data, which saves me from being buried in a mountain of information.

Since we had thousands and thousands of photos, I don’t really have any way to know if any of our photos were lost, but PhotoRec recoverd so many (after 6+ hours of processing) that it seems like I have our whole library back.

In my next post on the subject, I’ll talk about how PhotoRec wasn’t all I needed.

See part 2 of this post here.

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