Easy Photo Tip: Safeguard Your Identity—Never Loan or Sell a Memory Card

When an image is deleted from a memory card, the space that the image file occupied is marked “available” and new images can be written to that space. Formatting a memory card does little more than mark ALL of the space available. In other words, image files do not disappear unless they are overwritten or deliberately “scrubbed” by special software.

Inexpensive software from Lexar, SanDisk and others can recover deleted images in full or in part. This has two important implications for all of us.

First, accidental deletions and inadvertent formatting can very likely be reversed. If you delete or format unintentionally, stop shooting immediately. If you continue shooting, the new images may overwrite the ones you want to restore. There is no 100% guarantee that the data can be saved, but the odds are in your favor. Download Lexar Image Rescue 4 or another brand of undelete software and follow the onscreen directions.

This software also has an applet that scrubs the card 100% clean by filling it with random 1s and 0s. The only other way to render a card empty and inert (short of tossing it into the fireplace) is to format it and then shoot pictures of the sky, ground or your feet until the card is full.

The second implication is potentially worse. With the right software and a little patience, others might be able to view the images you thought you deleted from your memory card. Even though the images are completely harmless, do you really want to give them to strangers?

While there is no guarantee that images can be recovered from a blundered up card, the chances are strong enough that you should protect yourself with these extra steps before loaning or selling a card. Or make it your policy to never share your media.

BTW, don’t wait until you need it. Buy undelete software today and practice with it now so you are prepared to deal with accidents without panic.

—Jon Sienkiewicz