Recover photos after a bush fire or another natural disaster

March 2, 2020

Recover photos after a bush fire or another natural disaster

Recover Photos

With the recent catastrophic bushfires in Australia, but also the floods that followed and other natural disasters such as storms, many of us might feel a bit more anxious than usually.


When listening to people who were not only affected in one way or other, but actually lost their homes and more, the loss of photos is almost always mentioned. After people and pets, saving photos and memorabilia is on the top of the list of things one tries to grab before evacuating.


Sometimes, it is too late though, and these precious belongings are lost forever. If this has happened to you, I can’t even start to imagine what you are going through and I won’t pretend I can. All I can say is that my heart goes out to you. But, that doesn’t really help you I suppose.


Hence, I’d like to share some practical tips with you that will hopefully help you to recover and rebuild your photo collection, at least partially. It might take time and your new collection will possibly be a lot smaller than what it used to be. Furthermore, it is certainly not easy and probably time consuming, but doable. Pick one thing from the list of suggestions below that you feel is the easiest for you and start with this.



Digital Photos


Your Phone Photos

If you are like most people and use mostly your phone as your main camera, that’s where you would find most of your photos. So, if you still have your phone, that’s a great start and your phone photos should still be there.


However, what if you haven’t got your phone anymore? If you had an iPhone, chances are that you have an Apple ID and an iCloud account. Get access to a computer and go to to log in. You’ll find the Photos app there. Check whether you’ve got photos in there. Please note that they will only be in the cloud if you’re phone was set up that way, ie if iCloud Photos was turned on.


If it wasn’t, don’t despair yet. You might have had iCloud backup turned on (which is a different setting). If so, your photos will be part of that backup and you can restore it.


If you’ve got another phone (or an iPhone), you might have uploaded your photos to a cloud service such as Google Photos or Drive, Dropbox, Amazon Photos or Drive, OneDrive. If that’s the case, you will find them there.


I’m not always a fan of the cloud but for automatic phone camera backups it is definitely a great thing to have. Phones get lost and damaged really easily and it’s always good to have an automatic backup.


Damaged drives / computers

If your computer or drive is damaged but not completely burnt or ruined otherwise, there is a chance that specialists can recover data from it. A company that I’ve used in the past and that was able to successfully recover data from damaged drives is called OnTrack ( Even in cases, where other recovery specialists had previously said it’s hopeless. The good thing is they assess your drive before you pay and let you know how big the chance of recovery is. Only then you need to decide whether you want to go ahead.



Your photos stored on a computer


Most people have at least some of their photos stored on a computer at home. If that’s the case, you hopefully have a backup kept away from home or in the cloud. This is the first place I’d check. Sometimes, people are not aware that they are actually backing up to the cloud. (If you want to learn more about backup practices, check out these posts: 3-2-1 Backup Method for Digital Photos, How I Lost and Recovered my Photos,  Prepare and Backup your Photos before Natural Disaster hits).


If you have lost your digital photos and have no backup, there are still ways to recover at least some of them. Here are some options and ideas:


Backup copies

Are there any backup drives or copies that might still be around somewhere? If you find a damaged one, a specialist might be able to retrieve and restore at least some of the data (see above).


Ask friends and family

Oftentimes, other family members and friends have photos of us. This could be of events, from text messages or emails you had sent them or shared in other ways. Reach out to them, I am sure they are more than happy to help you.


One easy way is to use Dropbox. You can create a ‘file request’ link to which people can upload their photos. This is a lot easier for you than having people emailing or texting photos.


Professional photos

Many people had professional photos taken over the years. If you still remember who the photographer was, please do approach them and get these pictures back.


Workplace, Clubs, Committees, Schools etc.

Ask anywhere you are or were involved over the years, especially when it involved events. We are not usually photographed at work but maybe at the annual Christmas party. If you are in a sports club or similar, there are most probably photos of you, too.


Social Media

These days, almost everyone is active on one or multiple social media accounts. Check them out and see what you can find. The quality is oftentimes compromised depending on the service but it’s better than nothing.


Online storage or photo book suppliers

If you ever had your digital photos printed or created gifts or photo books, check out the suppliers you have used (e.g. Snapfish, Shutterfly, Harvey Norman, Flickr, Google Photos etc.). We tend to upload photos to these places, create the books or gifts and then leave the photos there. With a bit of luck, you can reclaim some.


Printed photos


Printed photos are unfortunately a lot harder to recover, especially when they were burnt. Again, asking family members and friends probably promises the most success to get some photos back.


Resources to recover and restore damaged printed photos


If your printed photos are not destroyed but damaged, not all hope is lost. It is astonishing, how much we can recover and restore. Sometimes, time is of essence though, especially when your photos have been water damaged. This calls for pretty much immediate action.


It would go too far to explain all the options and techniques to recover damaged photos. Hence, I have listed some resources for you (no affiliation):

Resources for photo recovery

How to remove smoke damage from photos:


Recovering fire-damaged records (including photos):


How to care for and recover personal items after a bushfire:


Saving photos before and after the storm:


Recommendations for cleaning and restoring damaged photos and albums:


DIY drying techiques:



Rebuilding your family history:



If you would like help with recovering some of your lost photos, professional photo organisers can certainly help you or at least point you to the right direction. You can find your local organiser through the APPO (Association of Personal Photo Organisers) directory.


Tip: Note what you have checked and found (or not), keep a log book.


More information about backing up photos:



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