How to Recover Deleted Files from an SD Card on Mac

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recover files from sd card on mac

SD cards are mercilessly manhandled on mobile devices like smartphones and cameras, and their portability means they also read and write data more often than other storage media. This makes them highly susceptible to both physical and logical damage, further resulting in data loss. It also makes human error more likely (have you ever “accidentally” formatted your SD card?)

We know losing thousands of photographs and raw footage totally sucks. This article provides step-by-step instructions (and more critical info) on how to recover deleted files from an SD card on your Mac. Read on.

SD Card Recovery Tips

If you want to see with your own eyes why SD card recovery software for Mac computers is so important, you should visit a discussion board frequented by professional photographers and search for the phrase “data loss.”recover deleted photos sd card mac

We guarantee you that you will find dozens and maybe even hundreds of posts from professional photographers who have either accidentally deleted some important pictures or formatted the wrong SD card by mistake. Data loss is especially common among wedding photographers because even relatively small weddings can get chaotic very quickly, especially when alcohol is involved.

Being paid to take pictures of the most important day in someone’s life only to lose everything in the blink of an eye is a panic-inducing situation, and the same can be said about all other data loss scenarios.

However, it’s paramount to stay calm and take certain steps to maximize the chance of successful data recovery.

  • Stop using the SD card as soon as possible: If you accidentally format an SD card while playing with your digital camera, you must stop using it as soon as possible otherwise you risk overwriting the storage space that was occupied by the deleted files and making data recovery impossible.
  • Don’t reformat the SD card: Reformatting the SD card won’t give you back your data, so make sure to avoid it and skip straight to one of the three data recovery methods described in this article.

Method 1: Recover Files from the Trash on Mac

On your Mac computer, there is a special folder called Trash. When you delete a file, the file is first moved to this folder before it is deleted for good. Trash guarantees 100% recovery success rate, and you don’t need any special software to use it.

However, this folder is primarily for local files – so this method only works if your SD card was connected during deletion. What most people don’t know is that Mac creates a hidden Trash folder for external storage devices. We’ll explore this more in the next section.

To Recover Deleted Files from Trash:

Step 1. Click on the Trash icon in the Dock.free sd card recovery software for mac

Step 2. Find your deleted files and highlight those that you want to recover.

Step 3. Either right-click on them and select “Put Back” or drag and drop them onto the Desktop or into the folder where they belong.

To Recover Deleted Files From SD Card’s Trash Folder:

Step 1. Open Finder and navigate to your SD card’s root folder.

Step 2. Hit the key combination (CMD + Shift + >) to show hidden files, revealing the .Trashes folder.
Hidden Trashes folder in the SD card folder

Step 3. Open the Trash folder within the .Trashes folder and locate your deleted files. Right-click the item you want to recover, and click “Put Back.”
Put Back command in the SD card's hidden Trashes folder

What if you can’t find the files deleted from your SD card in Trash? In that case, you should use SD card recovery software for Mac, which is where the next method comes in.

Method 2: Recover Deleted Files With Paid Data Recovery Software

If the data on your SD card is gone due to accidental deletion, formatting, or corruption… Then the only way to recover as much of it as possible is by using data recovery software. The same rings true for CF cards, microSD cards, and other memory cards.

We’ll demonstrate this process using Disk Drill, a data recovery software we often recommend on our blog because of its high recovery rate and user-friendly GUI (Graphical User Interface).

If your SD card is logically damaged (for ex. corruption), you can also use Disk Drill’s free backup tool called Byte-to-byte Backup to create an image of your SD card’s data. You can then mount that image as a disk and scan it with Disk Drill’s data recovery tool. This is a major deal-maker in our opinion, as you can avoid further tampering with the corrupted SD card (which could cause even more damage).

It’s a great app for recovering photos, because you can preview your files to make sure you’re restoring the right data (which will save a lot of time). For the instructions, we’ll recover a RAW Canon image using Disk Drill so we can better showcase this feature. First, disconnect your SD card from your device and connect it securely to your Mac using a card reader. Then, do the following:

Step 1. Download and install Disk Drill.

Step 2. Launch Disk Drill (Finder > Applications > Disk Drill).
Disk Drill icon in the Finder Applications folder

Step 3. Select your SD card from the list of drives (if you’re using a USB-type card reader, it may appear as “Generic Storage Device.” Leave scan settings to “All recovery methods” and then, click “Search for lost data.”
Disk Drill drive selection screen

Step 4. Wait for Disk Drill to complete its scan, then click “Review found items.”
Disk Drill scanning screen

Step 5. Browse the list of items Disk Drill found for the files you want to recover. You can use the search bar in the top-right corner of the window to specify file names or file types (for example, .cr2 for RAW photos) or use the left sidebar to filter results by file type.
Disk Drill search bar and file type sidebar

Step 6. Hover your mouse to the right of each file name and click the eye button that appears. This will open a new window displaying a preview of that file so you can make sure it’s intact.
Disk Drill CR2 image preview

Step 7. Select the files you want to recover using the checkboxes in the left-most column of the Disk Drill window. Then, click “Recover.”
Disk Drill file selection checkboxes

Step 8. In the new window that pops up, use the dropdown menu to choose a destination for your recovered files. Make sure to select a location on your computer to avoid overwriting data on your SD card. Then, click “OK.”
Disk Drill save file dialogue box

Method 3: Recover Deleted Files with Paid Data Recovery Software

PhotoRec, along with its sister tool TestDisk, has been a mainstay in data recovery for years. Used together, they are a powerful SD card repair and recovery utility. They’re also completely free, but that means they have significant limitations compared to paid apps. First, TestDisk and PhotoRec’s latest update was in 2019, so their performance has lagged behind regularly updated apps (which are mostly paid – in comparison, Disk Drill has had regular performance updates and had early support for macOS Monterey, and now officially supports Canon CR3 RAW files).

Their other big weakness is their UI (user interface)… Specifically, they don’t have any. You’ll be recovering your data entirely through Terminal’s command line. Don’t worry though, just follow the steps we outlined below and you should be just fine.

We’ll actually be demonstrating PhotoRec specifically for this article, but you can’t download PhotoRec without TestDisk anyway.

Step 1. Download and install TestDisk/PhotoRec.

Step 2. Launch Terminal (Finder > Applications > Utilities > Terminal).
Terminal app icon in the Finder Applications folder

Step 3. Type the following command and hit return (enter your password if prompted):

sudo photorec

Sudo PhotoRec command in the Terminal command line

Step 4. Use your arrow keys to move up and down the list and select your SD card (you can figure this out by comparing disk sizes in Disk Utility). It’s also a good idea to choose the “rdisk” volume instead of “disk” for a more comprehensive scan. Then, hit return.
PhotoRec drive selection screen

Step 5. Choose the partition that contains your data, then use your arrow keys to highlight “File Opt” and hit return.
PhotoRec File Opt option in the partition selection screen

Step 6. Browse the list to make sure the file types you want to recover are ticked (ex. RAW files), then hit return to go back to the last screen.
Selected CRW file type in PhotoRec's file type selection screen

Step 7. Use your arrow keys to highlight “Search”, then hit return.
PhotoRec scan start button

Step 8. Select “Other”, then hit return.
PhotoRec partition selection screen

Step 9. If you accidentally deleted your files (or formatted your SD card), choose “Free.” If your data (or entire SD card) is corrupted, choose “Whole.” Hit return.
PhotoRec scan type selection

Step 10. Choose a destination for the recovered files, then hit (C) to confirm and begin the recovery process. Here’s a tip: Use the left and right arrow keys to go deeper into folders.
PhotoRec file destination selection

Once PhotoRec completes the recovery process, your files will be saved in a folder named “recup_dir” or “recup_dir.1~” in your selected destination.

Method 4: Recover Deleted Files on Mac with Time Machine

Time Machine is a backup software application that comes with all recent versions of macOS. When enabled, it automatically creates backups of all files, including apps, music, and photos, just to give a few examples, so you can easily restore them in the future if needed.
To Recover Deleted Files with Time Machine:

Step 1. Launch Time Machine by clicking on the icon in the menu bar.

Step 2. Find the files you want to restore using the onscreen up and down arrows.

Step 3. Once you have located the files you want to restore, click the Restore button.

FAQ

Conclusion

When it occurs to you that you have accidentally deleted important photos, you should immediately head over to the Trash folder and see if they can be recovered from there. If that fails, your only chance is a data recovery software application like Disk Drill for Mac, which can recover not just photos but also videos, documents, audio, and many other file formats.