Ping Fm Logo
Roman Kropachek Photo
Written by:

Last update on

How to Easily Recover Permanently Deleted Photos on Mac

How to Easily Recover Permanently Deleted Photos on Mac

Losing cherished photos can be distressing, but fortunately, as a Mac user, there are several approaches you can take to recover deleted photos. In my experience, it’s important to act fast and methodically to maximize the chances of recovery. Whether you’ve lost photos through accidental deletion, system malfunctions, or external drive issues, there are multiple methods to attempt photo recovery on your Mac. Below, I will guide you through the processes I’ve used to successfully restore lost images, including tips to prevent future loss. For those looking to recoup various file types like CR2, NEF, or CRW, this resource can help you understand how to recover deleted photos across different formats.


Common Scenarios:

The Accidental Delete 🗑

  • After an extensive cleanup of my Mac, I found that I had accidentally deleted a folder full of vacation photos that I hadn’t backed up yet.
  • I remember feeling panicked and promptly ceasing any further use of my computer to prevent overwriting the space where the photos were stored.

System Crash 🔧

  • During an update, my Mac experienced a software glitch. After a reboot, I discovered some recently imported photos were missing.
  • I immediately used Disk Utility to repair permissions, suspecting a file system error might have led to the photos being marked as deleted.

External Drive Woes 💽

  • I disconnected my external hard drive without ejecting it properly which resulted in a corrupted drive. Some folders became inaccessible, and the photos within disappeared.
  • Using both built-in software and third-party tools, I worked on retrieving the lost data from the malfunctioning drive.


Step-by-Step Guide. Mac Photo Recovery:

Method 1: Recover from the Trash 🗑

  • First, I checked the Trash on my Mac. Deleted files usually remain here until the bin is emptied.
  • I located my deleted photos, right-clicked them and selected ‘Put Back’ to restore them to their original location.
  • If the Trash had been emptied, I could still try to recover the files using specialized software, which is discussed later in this guide.

Note: Once the Trash is emptied, the files aren’t actually erased from the drive—they’re simply marked as space available for use, so avoid using your Mac to prevent overwriting the data.

Conclusion: The Trash is often the easiest place to start when trying to recover deleted photos on a Mac.

Method 2: Time Machine Backup ⏰

  • If Time Machine backup was enabled on my Mac, recovering lost photos can be straightforward.
  • To recover photos, I opened Time Machine while in the Finder window or folder where the photos were previously located.
  • I browsed through the time-stamped backups to find the pictures I was looking for, selected them, and clicked ‘Restore’.

Note: This method works only if Time Machine was set up prior to the deletion of the photos.

Conclusion: Time Machine is a potent tool for retrieving lost files if you’ve taken the precaution of regularly backing up your system.

Method 3: Using a Recovery Program 💽

  • To recover photos after the Trash has been emptied, I have successfully used third-party recovery software like Disk Drill.
  • After downloading and installing Disk Drill, I launched the application and selected my Mac’s hard drive for scanning for deleted files.
  • I previewed recoverable photos and selected those I wanted to retrieve, clicked the ‘Recover’ button, and chose a new save location.

Note: Many recovery programs offer a free trial to preview files but may require a purchase for complete restoration.

Conclusion: Recovery programs can be exceptionally effective, albeit sometimes at a cost.

Method 4: Using Terminal 💻

  • Terminal commands can be used to recover photos if done correctly and swiftly after deletion. I used the command ‘cd .Trash’ to navigate to the Trash directory.
  • Then, I listed all files with ‘ls’ to locate my pictures and moved them back to my desktop or a preferred location using the ‘mv’ command.
  • However, this approach assumes the files are still in the Trash and have not been purged.

Note: Terminal commands can be complex and may not work after the Trash has been emptied. Be cautious with command usage to avoid further data loss.

Conclusion: Terminal can be a powerful tool for those comfortable with command-line interfaces, but it’s not widely recommended for data recovery.

Method 5: Check iCloud Photos 🌥

  • If I had iCloud Photos enabled, my deleted photos might be on
  • I logged into, accessed the Photos app, and searched through ‘Recently Deleted’ where files stay for up to 30 days.
  • I selected the photos I needed and clicked ‘Recover’ to restore them back to my iCloud Photos library.

Note: This method only works if iCloud Photos was active and syncing when the pictures were deleted.

Conclusion: iCloud provides an excellent safety net for recovering photos, assuming the service was in use.

Method 6: Professional Data Recovery Services 🛠

  • If all else fails, I looked into professional data recovery services that have specialized equipment and software.
  • I reached out to a reputable service like DriveSavers and provided them with my non-functioning drive or Mac.
  • While expensive, this option gave me the best chance of recovery when DIY methods weren’t successful.

Note: Professionals may offer a no-data, no-fee promise, but the cost can still be significant.

Conclusion: This can be the last resort for critical data recovery if you’re willing to invest in it.


Youtube video to watch


Precautions and Tips:

Vigilant Backup Habits 💾

  • After my experiences, I’ve learned to maintain a routine backup regimen with Time Machine and cloud services like iCloud or Dropbox.
  • It’s important to store backups on external drives and to safely eject these drives before unplugging them.


Other Considerations

When attempting to recover deleted photos from a Mac, it’s crucial to understand the underlying mechanisms of how Mac OS manages file deletion. Once you empty the Trash or delete files from a memory card, they are not immediately removed from the storage medium. Instead, the system marks that space as available to be overwritten by new data. Therefore, the key to successful recovery is to cease using the device immediately to avoid overwriting the ‘deleted’ files.

Moreover, you should be aware that not all files are recoverable, especially if they’ve been overwritten or if the drive has been formatted multiple times. The file system type (APFS, HFS+, or others) can also play a role in the recovery process and may affect which recovery tool is best suited for the task.

For photographers or individuals who work with image files frequently, it’s wise to invest in good data recovery software before any loss occurs. This preemptive step ensures that you’re prepared for any accidental deletions or data loss scenarios.

Additionally, maintaining a clean and organized photo library can minimize the risk of accidental deletion. Create folders for each event or project, and regularly review your files to get rid of duplicates or unwanted images mindfully. Using photo management apps like Adobe Lightroom can greatly help in this regard.

In the unfortunate event of data loss, it’s essential to assess the value of the deleted photos. If they’re irreplaceable, such as wedding or birth photographs, it may be worth investing in professional recovery services immediately rather than attempting DIY methods that could potentially cause further damage.


Recovering deleted photos can feel like a daunting task at first, but with the right approach and tools, it’s possible to successfully retrieve your precious memories. Each of the methods outlined above carries its own advantages and levels of difficulty. Be sure to assess your situation and choose the most appropriate method. Remember, the best defense against photo loss is a robust backup strategy. Continually educate yourself about data management, and revisit your backup plan regularly to ensure it meets your needs. For additional resources and assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to Apple Support or consult with professional data recovery experts.


To recover deleted photos without software, you can use Time Machine if you have set it up previously. If not, check the Trash to see if the photos are still there, as they can be restored directly if not permanently deleted.

To use Time Machine for photo recovery, connect your backup drive, click the Time Machine icon in the menu bar, select 'Enter Time Machine', navigate to the date you want, select your photos, and click 'Restore'.

Retrieving photos from a corrupted Mac hard drive may require disk repair utilities or professional data recovery services. Disk Drill is a popular tool for such situations. Always back up data to prevent loss.

Yes, you can recover photos from a Mac that won't boot by using Target Disk Mode or removing the hard drive and connecting it to another Mac. Also, consider booting from an external drive with a recovery tool installed.

Some top-rated photo recovery software for Mac includes Disk Drill, PhotoRec, and Stellar Photo Recovery. They offer powerful scanning and recovery features tailored for Mac's file system.

To prevent future photo loss, regularly back up your photos using Time Machine or a cloud service, avoid abrupt removal of external storage devices, and keep your Mac's operating system and applications updated.

After a macOS update, you might retrieve lost photos by checking the Recently Deleted folder in the Photos app or using Time Machine. If missing, third-party photo recovery software might be necessary.

If photos are permanently deleted from the Photos app, they might still be recoverable with third-party software like Disk Drill or Wondershare Recoverit, provided they have not been overwritten by new data.

When you notice photos are missing, stop using your Mac to prevent data overwrite, check the Trash, try using Time Machine, or consider third-party recovery software if necessary.

Photo recovery software for Mac can be highly reliable, but success rates vary per case. The risk includes potential data overwrite during the recovery process, so attempt recovery before adding new files.