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How to recover deleted files and photos on a Mac

Losing a file in macOS can be a real pain, and doubly so when you’re the one who clicked delete. Fortunately it’s pretty easy to recover deleted files, particularly if you realise your mistake quickly. This guide will show you how to recover deleted items on a Mac.

In this tutorial we’ll look at simple methods for getting back deleted documents, photos, music files and contacts.

How to recover a deleted document in macOS

Recovering a deleted document in macOS is straightforward if you do it straight away. It will usually be found inside the Trash can – sorry, rubbish bin. Click on the Trash icon (on the right of the Dock) to view all of the files you have deleted.

You can use the Search box in the Finder window to find the file (enter the search term then click on Trash instead of This Mac to search the Trash folder). Locate the file you want to rescue and drag it back out of the Trash and to the Desktop (or any other part of Finder).

But bear in mind that time is a factor here – when your hard drive gets full, macOS may start to remove items from the Trash. So if you deleted it a long time ago you may find the item has been removed. In this instance, you can recover it using a Time Machine backup.

How to recover deleted files on Mac

How to recover a deleted photo on Mac

When you delete a photo from the Photos app on Mac, you get a 30-day grace period. If you change your mind before the 30 days have elapsed, you can go into the Recently Deleted album and recover the photo.

How to recover deleted photos on Mac

How to recover deleted photos on Mac

Select Albums from the bar along the top, and double-click Recently Deleted. You’ll see a list of photos and videos you’ve deleted, well, recently, with a caption under each one indicating how long it’s got left. Select the photo you want to get back and slick Recover at the top right. (If you want to save space and you’ve just deleted a bunch of large files you’re absolutely certain you won’t want them back, you can also click Delete All.)

How to recover deleted photos on Mac

How to recover deleted photos on Mac

Things become slightly more complicated if you’ve got iCloud Photo Library enabled. iCloud Photo Library automatically pulls in all the photos you take with your iPhone and iPad, which means there will be multiple digital copies – so a photo that’s been deleted from one device will still be available on the others, right? Not so: deletions sync across all devices.

When you delete an iCloud Photo Library picture or video from the Mac, it’ll pop up a warning message, ‘Delete from all your devices?’, and your only options are to agree to this or not delete the photo at all. And if you delete an image from your iPhone or iPad, you don’t even get the warning – it’ll just be whisked off iCloud Photo Library on other devices.

See also: How to recover lost documents in Word for Mac

How to recover a deleted photo on Mac with iPhoto

If you’re still using iPhoto (which Apple replaced with Photos in 2015) and you’ve deleted the photo from that program, it will be sent to the iPhoto Trash (rather than the usual macOS Trash). Follow these steps to recover a deleted image in iPhoto:

  1. Open iPhoto and click on Trash in the Sidebar.
  2. Control+Click on the photo you want to recover and choose Put Back.
  3. Click on Photos in the Sidebar to view the images.

The file will now be placed back in the iPhoto library.

The iPhoto Trash Folder

The iPhoto Trash Folder

How to recover deleted files: How to recover deleted music files in macOS

Music files are largely managed on Mac computers using iTunes. This displays the music files but keeps the actual music files stored in the iTunes Music folder. (This is located in [username] > Music > iTunes > iTunes Music. Alternatively, in some earlier version of macOS, you need to look in Home > Music > iTunes Media > Music.)

When you delete a music file in iTunes, you remove the listing in iTunes, and sometimes move the file from the Music folder in Finder to the Trash (you get the option when you delete the file). If you’ve simply removed the music file from iTunes, it will still be in the iTunes > iTunes Music (or iTunes Media > Music) folder. So the first thing to do is check this folder for the missing audio file. If you find it then drag it on top of the iTunes icon to re-import it back into iTunes.

If the file has been removed from iTunes and deleted from the Finder then you’ll find it in the Trash folder. Follow these steps to get it back into iTunes:

  1. Open iTunes and click on iTunes > Preferences.
  2. Click Advanced and make sure there is a tick in the box marked ‘Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library’.
  3. Drag the audio file out of the Trash to the Desktop.
  4. Drag the audio file on top of the iTunes icon. It should be re-imported and copied into the iTunes folder in Finder.
  5. Move the audio file from the desktop back to the Trash. (It has been copied back into iTunes so is now a duplicate file.)

How to recover deleted music on Mac

How to recover deleted music on Mac

This restores the music file to iTunes. If you cannot find the audio file in the Trash then you will need to either check your Time Machine backup, or get the audio file again – rip it again from the CD it came from or, if you purchased it from iTunes, download the file again from the iTunes Store.

If all else fails, there is always the option of downloading a data recovery program. There are many different ones to choose from, but make sure you do your research before downloading anything. All of them will essentially do the same thing, which is scan your system to look for any deleted files, and then give you the option of restoring them.

How to recover deleted files: How to recover deleted contacts in macOS

If you’ve deleted an entry from the Contacts app in macOS then you can tap on Edit > Undo Delete Card. You have to do this before making any other edits in Contacts, or you’ll lose the card. You can recover it using Time Machine, if you have it set up on your Mac.

Read next: How to transfer a Time Machine backup to a new Mac


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