What have I done??? My Pictures disappeared
May 6, 2008 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Somehow my friend's "My Pictures" folder (Win XP) disappeared. All 4GB of it.

So a friend was showing me her holiday snaps on her laptop. Afterwards, as a favour, I removed some unwanted software: PowerDVD and My Web Search (via Add/Remove Programs) and PCFriendly (by deleting its folder in Program Files since Uninstall didn't work). Didn't restart.

I'm pretty sure that's all I did. Then, when I tried to reopen a holiday snap via the Documents menu, the shortcut was broken. And the My Pictures folder had lost its icon, and was empty. And the HDD, which had only about 300MB free before, suddenly had about 4GB free.

I immediately downloaded an UnDelete program (Recover Files 2), installing it on the D: drive. (My Pictures was on C:) It found not a trace of any of the missing image files.

Any suggestions? Sound familiar? Is this hopeless? Is there anything else I can try? (The only silver lining is that the majority of the photos were backed up, but several months' worth wasn't. The laptop is several years old, but otherwise trouble-free.)
posted by snarfois to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Download Testdisk 6.9 from here
this program will find missing files. There is a photorecovery program included .
Or Search for *.jpg first and see if the pix are in another folder, ie: \Documents and setting\username\My Documents\My Pictures ....
posted by Agamenticus at 3:08 PM on May 6, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks! I'll give Testdisk a try.

The fact that Windows suddenly reports 4GB free on the hard disk (rather than 300MB) leads me to think that searching for *.jpg will be futile.
posted by snarfois at 3:12 PM on May 6, 2008

Are there any backups of the images, possibly any stored on an SD card?

It's possible one of the apps you deleted bundled My Pictures into it's uninstaller just to be rude, that you accidentally deleted My Pictures, or anything similar.

It might still be in the trash if you're lucky, but I'm sure you checked there.
posted by devlin at 3:55 PM on May 6, 2008

You could try a system restore.
posted by pazazygeek at 4:09 PM on May 6, 2008

Sorry, that's start --> accessories --> system tools --> system restore. Then restore the computer to the day before you mucked about and uninstalled that stuff.

Before you bother, you say you know that the My Pictures folder had about 4GB worth of photos. Is there any way that you can verify that there are 4GB worth of new free space on the hard drive? Does she know how much space she was using on her hard drive before My Pictures disappeared?
posted by pazazygeek at 4:13 PM on May 6, 2008

Response by poster: I thought of System Restore, but that won't actually bring back data files, will it? Only system settings. Still worth a try? Also afraid of making things worse if there's still a chance of undeleting.

I know exactly how much space was available on C: beforehand, because I checked. I knew it was nearly full and I was removing unwanted apps to free up space. I'm relying on Windows Explorer's estimate of available space.

The recycle bin was empty before I started doing anything. When I ran the Undelete program, it found many deleted items that used to be in the recycle bin.

I was wondering whether "My Web Search" (well-known as malware) might have reacted spitefully to the uninstallation attempt, but I've not found any reports of this happening on the web.
posted by snarfois at 4:23 PM on May 6, 2008

The deleted folder will probably not be in the Recycle Bin, if you auto-deleted the folder with another application (most likely explanation), because of its size. Any folder over a certain size (2GB if I remember correctly) is deleted, rather than moved to the Recycle Bin.

The *really* important thing is DO NOT WRITE ANYTHING TO THE HARD DISK until you have recovered the files. Try not to reboot or shut down, either, as this writes to the disk. If you run an undelete program, or any other recovery program, run it from an external drive (a USB flash drive, a CD-ROM, or an external hard drive).

When you delete a DOS/Windows file (by accident or intentionally), Windows changes the entry in the hard disk file lookup-directory (the FAT/NTFS index). Usually, files are deleted by overwriting the first one or two characters of the filename with a non-alpha character (e.g. P107003.jpg becomes ~107003.^pg) and setting the file size to zero. As Windows cannot recognize files that start with non-alphanumeric characters, this effectively makes it invisible when you search and makes its location on the disk available for re-use (which is why you don't want to write to the disk). When the file was originally saved to the disk each chunk of the file is written to the disk and then linked back to the location on the disk where the previous chunk was written -- like a daisy-chain. The recovery program needs to follow the chain of data chunks backwards to work out how big the file is, before it can correct the file-index to allow Windows to "see" the file again. But if you write or install ANYTHING in the meantime, you are likely to overwrite the "daisy-chain" of file-chunks in the middle of the chain -- so you will not be able to recover anything, for many of the files. If you did write anything to the disk in the meantime, all may not be lost - just don't write anything else until you recover the files!

My favorite website for utility programs like undelete is http://www.majorgeeks.com (just type "undelete" in the search box and lots of free or cheap programs are listed.
posted by Susurration at 4:48 PM on May 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

The fact that "Recover Files 2" found nothing suggests that the pictures have NOT been deleted.

However, if they HAVE been deleted, and you've done lot of browsing looking for undeletion tools and such, it's quite possible that the records (stored in the NTFS MFT and deleted by zeroing a flag bit) of those photo files have been overwritten. If that's the case, you're probably out of luck, although I've had some success with Smart Recovery. This freeware utility SLOWLY attempts to rebuild photos using bits and pieces of image files that it finds in unallocated sectors of your hard drive.

Better yet, run Smart Recovery against your friend's memory card, the one that was used to take the pictures originally.

Let's hope for the best. When you searched for the files, nothing was found. Perhaps, for some odd reason, the folder is now hidden. Search again, this time searching for hidden files and folders as well. Also, you could try running windirstat for a more graphical view of the hard drive.

Just in case, is there any any chance the photos magically migrated to your D: drive?
posted by shinybeast at 6:15 PM on May 6, 2008

I was thinking that the folder may have been deleted - if that can be restored, it may fix the problem. A Folder file will not have a file extension: it will look something like "~y Pictures." (Note that a folder file ends with a period, not a three-letter extension - the period may or may not display, depending on the undelete/recover application). Remember that the folder's original location will be in the folder C:\Documents and Settings\login-username\My Documents\ So have a look for the My Pictures folder in the above folder location using Recover Files 2.
posted by Susurration at 6:59 PM on May 6, 2008

Try using Recuva. Quote from the website:

"Recuva (pronounced "recover") is a freeware Windows utility to restore files that have been accidentally deleted from your computer. This includes files emptied from the Recycle bin as well as images and other files that have been deleted by user error from digital camera memory cards or MP3 players. It will even bring back files that have been deleted by bugs, crashes and viruses!"
posted by mand0 at 8:40 PM on May 6, 2008

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