Recover lost photos on a Mac

Anyone over the age of 35 has a shoebox of a thousand photos. This is why we all love storing our photos on our computers. But what happens when the computer starts to have issues and all your photos are on that computer?

Apple is not immune to these problems. In fact, it was part of my job to recover lost photos on a Mac when I worked at Apple in Elk Grove, California. I’m kinda good at it.

Where did the photos go?

Photo databases like Apple’s Photos App, iPhoto and Aperture are really good for importing, editing and organising your photos. The photo application does all the work. They are so good at it that they don’t bother to explain themselves. Then you do not actually know where the photos are located on your Mac Computer. This is where a specialist like me can help.

My job is to both recover lost photos on your Mac help you identify and get rid of duplicates (a common problem if you import to your desktop) and do so in a way that it does not create an unorganised mess.

Locations where your Mac likes to keep photos.

  • ~/Photos/Photos Library
  • ~/Photos/iPhoto Library (Older Macs)
  • ~/Photos/Aperture Library (Older Macs)
Recover lost photos on a Mac
Photos Library bundle

If you go into your Photos folder you will often find a single file that is called “Photos Library” this is actually a bundle of database files that will contain the original photos, modified photos and thumbnails.

Before you go opening this package up, I need to warn you – DON’T! Not if you care about any of the work you have put into organising or editing these images. The contents of that folder are not meant for humans to understand. It is a reference and storage facility for your Mac – not for you.

For 5 years at AppleCare I was the Tier 2 specialist whose job it was to clean up the mess created when a customer opened this package and thought .. That is now how I would file this, I will just tidy it up a bit!! Then Panic. And an angry call to the centre. More Panic. All my photos are GONE!! They almost never were gone. I got them back ten times faster than the time I spent calming the customer down.

This is NOT a photo shelf or photo album for you. It is the automated library basement archive with its own very specific filing system. JUST DON’T Touch it.

If you leave it alone and the Photos Application ever fails, your photos are still there, they are just not visible through the application.

Troubleshooting the Apple Photos Application

1. Application is working but some photos are missing

When the Photos App is not showing all your photos you will often see a broken link in the place where your photos were. The process is automatic and will take a long time. I recommend that once you start the process walk away and come back sometime in the next 2-3 hours. (Longer if you have a ton of photos) Do not stop this process.

  1. Quit the Photos Application
  2. Hold Down the Command and the Option Key at the same time
  3. While holding down the Option and Command key click on the Photos Application

This tells The Photos App that you want it to repair the database. Like I said before this is a very long process. However, you do not need to be looking at the computer while this is happening.

2. Photos App looks blank!

This happens when someone ignores my instructions to DON”T TOUCH IT and moves the photos database or renames it for some reason. Lucky for you this is VERY easy fix.

  • Quit the Photos Application
  • Hold down the Option key
  • Click on the Photos Application

This opens a window that allows you to switch between different photo libraries. This comes in handy when you want to keep your work photos separate from your family photos, or have event specific libraries.

The hard drive is failing, now what?

Think of a filing Hard Drive like a burning building. We need to get everything off it – NOW – because you never know when the drive will fail entirely. After that your only option is the very expensive data recovery specialist.

Flip the Macbook on to its Back. Recover lost photos on a Mac. You should only open a Macbook if you are a qualified tech as you can harm your computer.
Recover lost photos on a Mac. Sometimes you need to have an Mac Expert take out the a hard drive and recover them manually
Use and external dock or hard drive enclosure to recover lost photos from a failing hard Drive

FIRST – Remove the hard drive from the MacBook

Sometimes the the drive is failing to a point where it cannot run the operating system and access your files at the same time. (Or it will take forever to do so)

THEN – Place the hard drive into a dock or hard drive enclosure to recover lost photos

Now access the drive as if it is a standard external hard drive. From there you should find where you keep those photos and safely move them to a healthy hard drive or a cloud storage server with enough space.

ALWAYS REMEMBER – Time Machine Backup

You should be backing up every day! Time Machine makes me look like a hero every day! Use it. Because if something goes wrong we can always recover from that backup. But if you need someone to Recover lost photos on a Mac we can help

More from MacMason