I was clearing out some space on my iPhone so I deleted some photos to make more room. I then had a terrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach because I accidentally removed some pictures of my son from when he was a baby that I really wanted to keep.
I was gutted.
This mistake led me to research ways I could recover deleted photos from my iOS device so I could get my pictures back. I was very keen to find solutions that did not require bought iPhone data recovery software.
I found that you can restore pictures from iPhone by simply taking them out of the ‘Recently Deleted’ folder within the Photos App. It’s quick and easy to do and works on iPhone 5, 5S, 6, and 7 even without a computer. However, pictures are only kept in ‘Recently Deleted’ for 30 days so if you removed them a while ago this won’t work.
Also, if you have permanently deleted the photos from the ‘Recently Deleted’ folder you won’t be able to do this so how can you get the pictures back ? Many websites suggest you restore your iPhone from an iCloud or iTunes backup. However, I found this suggestion does not work if you have iCloud Photo Library turned on.
Luckily I discovered that you can recover the lost photos from a time machine backup of your Mac Computer, assuming you use a Mac.
How to recover deleted photos from iPhone
So here are all the free photo recovery methods I discovered ordered in the way I suggest you try them:
- Method 1: Recover deleted photos from ‘Recently Deleted’ items (without a computer)
- Method 2: Recover deleted photos from a time machine backup
- Method 3: Recover deleted photos from a 3rd party photo storage platform (such as Google Photos) without a computer
- Method 4: Recover deleted iPhone photos using an iTunes backup
- Method 5: Recover deleted iPhone photos from iCloud
- How to avoid photos being deleted permanently
This is by far the quickest and easiest way to restore your pictures but it only works if:
- You didn’t delete the images more than 30 days ago
- You haven’t removed the pictures permanently from the ‘Recently Deleted’ folder
If you have done one, or other of these 2 things you won’t be able to recover your photographs using this method and you should try one of my other suggestions.
On your iOS device:
- Tap the Photos app to Open it
- At the bottom tap Albums and you will be taken to My Albums
- Scroll all the way down to the bottom and tap Recently Deleted
- Tap Select in the top right and tap all of the pictures you want to restore
- At the bottom right tap Recover to restore the photo
This method relies on you owning a Mac computer running the ‘Time Machine’ backup software. If you don’t, then this option won’t work and you should try one of the other options.
It is worth mentioning that if you don’t have a Mac then you are less likely to have turned on the iCloud Storage Library feature as you don’t have a computer to sync your pictures with. This means you are probably able to recover your photographs using iTunes or iCloud.
- Go to the “Pictures” folder.
- Locate the file named “Photos Library.photoslibrary”
- Right-click (or Control+Click) on “PhotosLibrary.photoslibrary” and choose “Show Package Contents”
- Click on the Masters folder and navigate through the month and year of when the picture was taken.
- Open Time Machine by clicking on the icon in the menu bar and choosing Enter Time Machine, or if you have a Time Machine icon in your Dock just click on it.
- You can use the up arrow to go back through the backups until you get to the date where you still had the pictures on your iPhone.
- Look through the folder to find the deleted or lost picture. You can press Space Bar to preview it and check its the one you want.
- Click Restore to restore the photo to the computer.
- The Photos App will synchronize the missing photo back onto the iPhone, but be patient it may take a few minutes.
Recover permanently deleted photos from a 3rd party photo storage platform (such as Google Photos) without a computer
This method only works if you ave already installed a third-party App on your iPhone. If you haven’t, you must install Google Photos right away and then try one of my other methods.
If you are sensible enough to use a 3rd party photos App like Google Photos then well done, you will be able to recover the iPhone data from there.
Google Photos, is a free App which gives you unlimited storage space for all your Photos. Once installed you simply click the icon and the App will upload all your pictures in “original quality”. Confusingly, this isn’t the same quality as the original iPhone picture (which Google calls “high quality”), but it is still very good.
Once installed, if you delete a picture from your iPhone it will still be on Google Photos. You can then look at the image using the Google Photos, or download it to your iPhone again so it appears in your photo gallery.
The first time you upload content it is best done on Wi-Fi as it can be a slow process. It also uses a lot of battery power so it is best done overnight whilst your phone is plugged in to a power source.
Google Photos also allows you to backup video too.
Using this App is a great way of creating space on your iPhone whilst still keeping all your pictures and video in an easily accessible location.
To recover pictures from Google Photos to your iPhone:
- Tap the Google Photos icon
- Scroll through the images and find the one you wish to restore to your iPhone
- Open the image and take a screenshot of it
- The screenshot will appear in the bottom left of the iPhone screen, tap it
- Click Done at the top left of the screen
- Click Save to Photos
- The image will be saved in your Photo album
Although you can use the process to restore lost photos from iPhone, the question is why bother? You can view, edit and send pictures direct from Google Photos so there isn’t any need to have a copy on your iPhone.
In fact the only reason I can think of wanting a local copy of the picture is because you don’t have a WiFi or Cellular connection (The App keeps iPhone data in the cloud so you need an internet connection to view pictures).
This method will only work if you don’t have the iCloud Photo Library enabled.
For this method to work you need to have previously backed up your device to iTunes.
Important: When you follow this procedure you will wipe all the data currently on your iPhone, including any new photos you have taken. You should backup your iPhone before you proceed so you have the latest version of your data stored safely in a backup in case you need it. I would also advise you install Google Photos to backup all your pictures from your iPhone before you begin.
What you need
- Your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch
- A lightning or 30-pin cable (depending on the age of your device)
- The PC or Mac you use to perform the iTunes backups
To restore your photos follow the instructions below:
- Connect your iPhone to your computer using the lightning cable or 30-pin cable and open iTunes.
- If you have connected to this computer previously you should not be asked for a passcode or to Trust This Computer. If you are, try rebooting your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch while it is still connected.
- Select your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch when it appears in iTunes.
- Select “Restore Backup” in iTunes.
- Look at the date of each backup and pick the one that is likely to have the photos in it.
- Click Restore.
Option 1: recover your photos from iCloud Recently Deleted items
This method is worth a try but if you have waited more than 30 days, it is unlikely to work and you should try one of the other methods.
- Go to https://www.icloud.com/ and sign in using your Apple ID
- Click Photos
- Select Recently Deleted from the menu on the left
- Select the photos you want to recover from the right pain, use Command-Click to select multiple pictures.
- Click Recover from the top right to restore the images
If the pictures are not in Recently Deleted you need to restore your iPhone from an iCloud backup.
Option 2: restore permanently deleted photos on iPhone using an iCloud backup (without a computer)
This method will only work if you don’t have the iCloud Photo Library enabled.
Restoring from an iCloud backup involves deleting all the contents and settings on your iPhone and restoring them. This is a major task that will take several hours so be certain you have enough time.
You should also backup your iPhone before you proceed so you have the latest version of your data in case you need it. I would also advise you install Google Photos to backup your photos before you begin.
I would only perform an iCloud restore via WiFi and if my iPhone had 75%+ battery power and access to a power source.
To restore from an iCloud backup:
- Tap Settings
- Scroll down and click General
- Scroll all the way to the bottom and tap Reset
- Tap Erase All Content and Settings.
- On the Apps & Data screen, tap Restore from iCloud Backup, then sign in with your Apple ID
- Select Choose backup, then choose from a list of available backups in iCloud.
- All your data will be restored on to your device, including your photos, from the iPhone backup your picked.
The best way to ensure you don’t delete valuable photos is to make a backup of them.
You might assume that your pictures are already backed up via iCloud or iTunes, but they are not if you have enabled the iCloud photo library feature. Instead you are synchronizing the pictures between your iPhone, iCloud and any other Apple devices you own.
This means that whatever is on your iPhone is replicated across to your iCloud account, and on to all the other Apple devices you own.
Delete a picture on your iPhone and it is automatically deleted on iCloud and all your other devices. Or take a new picture and it automatically appears on all your other devices.
So how do you avoid pictures being deleted permanently and being unable to be restored?
The answer is to backup everything using a 3rd party photo App such as Google Photos. It is free, all you need to do is sign up for a Google account although you will already have one if you have a Gmail email account.
So to setup and backup Google Photos:
- Make sure your phone is well charged and you have a good WiFi connection
- Go to the App Store on your iPhone and search for Google Photos
- Download the App
- Once downloaded tap the App
- You will be asked to sign in using your Google account
- Your pictures will start to be copied to Google Photos – it will take a while, depending on the size of your photo album
- Done, you now have a backup!
People Also Ask
How does the iCloud Photos Library work?
Readers often believe that their iPhone backs up their pictures to iCloud safely. Unfortunately it does not.
Lets use an example to illustrate how the iPhone handles photos. You take a picture on your iPhone and it will automatically be copied to iCloud, and then on to any other Apple devices you own. You then look at the photographs using an Apple Mac and delete a few of them. The deleted pictures will then be automatically removed from iCloud and your iPhone without you doing anything.
So iCloud Photos isn’t a backup, it is a method to synchronize all your pictures on all your Apple devices. Each of your devices has the same pictures. So you can’t keep a picture on iCloud but delete it on your iPhone. Apple does not allow this.
This misunderstanding of how it works is often the cause of people accidentally deleting photographs they meant to keep.
I am sure there are technical reasons behind Apples decision on how iCloud Photo’s works, but in my experience it can cause a lot of problems for inexperienced users.
You can tell if you have it turned on by:
- Tap settings
- Tap your name at the top of the screen
- Tap iCloud
- You will see a list of the Apps using iCloud and Photos will appear at the top. Tap it.
- If the switch is on (green) then you are using iCloud Photo Library
- You can switch it off by tapping the switch