Are deleted images in Apple’s Photos gone for good?

The more you use your Mac, the lower your chances are of recovering any deleted files.

apple photos stock

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by Macworld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

Reader Thomas Last-name-withheld writes in with a tale of lost love in the age of digital-only images:

My now ex-girlfriend has either deleted all my photos from my MacBook or removed them to an external hard drive. I can’t find them anywhere. They are in no Recently Deleted album or Trash bin.

Thomas says there’s no local backup via Time Machine that he knows of. (This makes me wonder about the age of the gentleman and the ex, but love and heartbreak knows no age.)

In my day, an ex-partner might set photos ablaze, drop them in the toilet, or shred them—but one sometimes had the negatives, and could get new prints made! Although why you would of the person who did that is a subject for a different kind of columnist.

When everything is digital, everything is strangely more vulnerable than the seemingly fragile physical versions. In Photos in macOS, deleting images moves them to a Recently Deleted album found in its Sidebar. (Select View > Show Sidebar if that left navigation pane is missing.)

However, you can click the Delete All button in the upper-right corner of the Recently Deleted album, and the images are then unlinked in all their form in the library and the files deleted.

Depending on how your Mac is set up, perhaps you made a copy of the drive at some point? Maybe you enabled a cloud-based photo service that’s free or cheap, like Google Photos or Amazon Drive? Maybe the images are still synced to an iOS device?

If none of that is the case, you need to stop using your computer as quickly as possible to avoid overwriting the parts of the disk drive that are no longer linked by the filesystem, but which still contain your data. We’ve reviewed two file-recovery programs that could fit the bill to help in this extreme: Data Rescue One and MiniTool Data Recovery.

We can’t always choose wisely those we love; they may be intemperate, running hot and cold. But we can make backups: invest in a cloud-connected encrypted archival option like Backblaze that keeps archival versions. Then a breakup doesn’t lead to a reboot.

Ask Mac 911

We’ve compiled a list of the questions we get asked most frequently along with answers and links to columns: read our super FAQ to see if your question is covered. If not, we’re always looking for new problems to solve! Email yours to including screen captures as appropriate. Mac 911 can’t reply to—nor publish an answer to—every question, and we don’t provide direct troubleshooting advice.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon