Cult of Mac reader, Richard, emailed us today with the following issue:
I was trying to move my photos from my Mac to an external drive and during the transfer it kept asking me if I wanted to cancel or replace the image because that image was already there. I didn’t want to stop the process so I kept saying cancel. Afterwards, I realized that I was probably replacing images with the same number (e.g., img. 18) but that the images were probably different because, for example, I had simply reused sd cards from my camera and created a whole new set of images. Does this make sense? If I did indeed do that, are those images gone forever?
Yikes! We’ve all done this at some point in our Mac lives, some of us (looking right at myself) more than once. How can we get these replaced files back? There are three options that I know of.
One, if you use Time Machine, you can launch it and go back to a time before you replaced the images and either roll your entire hard drive back to that earlier state, or just restore the replaced images in place. This is assuming you’ve set Time Machine up correctly, and that you’ve included the hard drive the images were on in the first place in your Time Machine backup.
Two, you can try a file recovery utility, like FileSalvage. The trick here is that your Mac doesn’t actually get rid of files you replace or trash, it just pretends they don’t exist anymore, and marks their place on the hard drive as free space. If you haven’t used that disk much, there’s a good chance that the files have not been overwritten. File recovery utilities can look at that free space directly, and figure out what files are there, even though your MAc acts as if they are not. Launch the app, let it scan your external drive, and see what’s been replaced.
Once you find your replaced files, do yourself a favor and start backing them up to more than just one hard drive. Also, if you routinely copy files from a specific camera or device, be sure to create a new folder in the backup hard drive each time you do so, so that any files with duplicate names don’t have to be replaced.
Good luck, and thanks for the question, Richard!