How to recover deleted photos 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. Follow these steps to get your deleted photos back.

  1. Open Photos.
  2. Select Albums from the column on the left, and double-click Recently Deleted (in older versions of Photos you'll find Recently Deleted along the top). How to recover deleted photos Mac
  3. You'll see thumbnails 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(s) you want to get back.
  4. Now click 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 from iCloud

iCloud Photo Library stores all the photos you take with your iPhone and iPad, or upload to your Mac from a memory card, and pushes them out to all to all your devices so you can view them anywhere.

This might leave you thinking you have multiple digital copies of your photos, and you might think you can delete photos from your iPhone in order to free up space, safe in the knowledge that those photos will remain in iCloud... Not So Fast! If you delete a photo it will be deleted from iCloud, so it won't be available on your other devices at all! (Here's how to back up your photos a better way).

When you try to delete a photo from iCloud you should see a warning that the photo will be deleted from iCloud Photos on all your devices, so hopefully that will stop you...

But if this is what's just happened to you, you'll be happy to learn that there could be a way to get your deleted photos back.

Just as with the above case, you should be able to find the deleted photos in your Recently Deleted folder. So as long as 30 days haven't passed you will be able to recover your photos.

But what if it's been longer than 30 days? Read on...

How to recover photos that aren't in Recently Deleted

If it's been longer than 30 days there are a few options.

Have you shared them to social media? You may be able to download the photos again from Facebook, for example. You can download your media from Facebook. Find out about how to download your Facebook information here.

Alternatively, you could try the following options:

Recover photos using iMessage

Have you used iMessage to send them to a friend?

  1. Check your Messages app.
  2. Find a conversation with the person you think you might have sent the images to.
  3. Click on Details if you are accessing it via your Mac. Click on Info if you are on an iPhone or iPad. (You may need to tap on the drop-down arrow beside their name on an iOS device). Recover deleted photos
  4. Scroll through and look for the photos you might have sent.

Recover photos using Time Machine

Another possibility is that your Mac has been making its own Time Machine backups in the background without you even realising. It can do this without you even plugging in a storage device.

  1. Open Time Machine by clicking Command + Space and typing Time Machine. Press Enter.
  2. Click back to a date when you are sure you still had the photos.
  3. In the Finder go to your Home drive (it has an icon that looks like a house and probably your name).
  4. Click on Pictures.
  5. Find the Photos Library file.
  6. Now you can either recover the Photo library. That would be the simple option but it would over-write the one you have now.
  7. Alternatively, copy it. But bear in mind it may be a large file!
  8. Once you have copied it, press Escape to close Time Machine and then go back to the Pictures folder in the finder, and paste in the Photos folder you just copied.
  9. Now, right click on the folder you just copied over, and choose Show Package Contents. How to see what's in Photos
  10. Open the Masters folder.
  11. Now you need to figure out when you added the photo - which year, which month, but you should be able to recover the photos you deleted. Hopefully.

If you have a Time Machine backup, or another kind of backup, on an external drive even better. Read more about recovering files from Time Machine here.

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