Memory Cards

Permanently delete images from a memory card

Written by Gail Bjork

When you erase images from a memory card, they aren’t really gone. While this is a generally a good thing, there are times you may want images totally removed from a card.

Memory card driveDespite what the camera manual says, when you erase images from a memory card, they aren’t really gone. Even when formatting a card, some of the content may remain.

Generally, this is a good thing. If you erase images by mistake, there is a good chance of recovering them with image recovery software, if the memory card hasn’t been corrupted.

Still, there are times you may want images totally removed from a card.

Overwriting files on a memory card

Image and video files can still be recovered until they are overwritten. According to developers at Art Plus, to ensure no one is able to read or recover deleted images, “format the card in your camera and then shoot random images until the card is filled again. Earlier images will be rewritten by random ones.”

Some digital cameras have a special Low Level Format option that erases more data on a card than a standard format. While low level formatting takes slightly longer than regular formatting, it is good practice do do a low level format now and then. Still, some images may not be completely removed from the card unless you use the process mentioned above.

Wiping a memory card clean

There is also software, such as SanDisk’s RescuePRO that completely wipes/deletes data from memory cards. Because of the complexity of the process, wiping a card can take a very long time.

A word of caution

Before wiping or overwriting files, make sure that’s what you really want to do. There is no way of recovering files once a wipe has been done or files are overwritten by new files.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.


  • thanks Gail for the quick response.

    So, formatting the card first is compulsory? or after deleting the pictures you want to get rid of you can simply fill the card until it’s full and that means you’ve overwritten everything?

    If you delete the new images after filling the whole card, can we assume that you won’t be able to recover the old images?

  • rio, no, you should first format the memory card, then fill it up with images to make sure everything is overwritten. As mentioned in the article:

    According to developers at Art Plus, to ensure no one is able to read or recover deleted images, “format the card in your camera and then shoot random images until the card is filled again. Earlier images will be rewritten by random ones.”

    What I do is set my camera to continuous mode and keep holding the shutter button down until the card is full. Or, I’ll shoot video until it’s full.

  • Dear Gail,

    I took a few pictures (can’t remember how many, but shouldn’t be more than 10) that I deleted and never wanted to get back. To ensure that they can never be retrieved, I took about 20 random pictures and later deleted these 20 pictures. If I understood it correctly, these 20 pictures had overwritten the previous 10, but just out of curiosity, can the fact that I have also deleted the 20 pictures recover the previous 10 that I had gotten rid of? or once you overwrite a file it’s gone forever no matter what you do with the new file overwriting the old one?

    Many thanks in advance!

  • kevin, on the cameras I own, File Numbering is set via a camera menu when in Playback mode. File Numbering can be set to Continuous or Auto Reset. While the terminology may be different for the camera you’re using, I’m sure it has something similar. So change the setting to Auto Reset mode.

    A word of caution. Make sure you don’t overwrite images because they have the same name. Once you have downloaded images for one client, you may want to batch rename the images before downloading images from the next client; eg. Clientname-1.jpg, Clientname-2.jpg, etc.

    There are many free programs that will batch rename images, such as Irfanview or Photofiltre. Maybe you already have a program on your computer that will batch remane them.

  • for my business I record a large number of pictures for numerous clients and organize them according to picture number displayed on the camera , however when I go to download them on my computer the number sort order is completely different making the task of organizing the picture next to impossible. How do I get the memory card to go back to zero after I’ve downloaded a batch of pictures and erased them so that the next group of pictures starts at #1 , thus making it easy to organize the pictures ?? Can you help me with this ?? Thx

  • As I am travelling should I change memory cards so as not to overwrite the other deleted images for the time being?  Thanks

  • Please help!! I have a Canon Digital IXUS 70 and accidently formatted my memory card while trying to see how many photos I have!! It now says I have no images, is there any chance of recovering the images now?? Thanks

  • Nele, check both the camera manual and any manual regarding the Kodak software you use to download the images. Typically in the camera settings menu, you can choose whether or not to use sequential numbering.

    In the download software, you should be able to change settings as to where images are saved and how the folders are named regarding date, eg. all photos from one month in a single folder; images placed in a folder for each day you download, etc. Be careful of having the same numbers for multiple images as, somewhere down the road, you may inadvertently overwrite them.

  • I have a Kodak Camera 143 and I am using 2GB SD card. I would like to know how to reset the numbering sequence on the memory card. Everytime I take a picture and download it to my laptop instead of the picture number to start from 001 , the numbering sequence continues from the last picture despite deleting all the pictures and formating the memory card before taking the new picture. Please help! I would like to know how to reset this numbering!

  • Information will never be totally wiped off a memory card by using a camera. Maybe a computer can wipe it clean but, personally, I wouldn’t use a computer and risk ruining my card. Data can be overwritten as explained in this section. There are programs that can totally “wipe” the media clean. For example, Sandisk’s RescuePro includes such a feature. There may be free programs that offer wipe capability, and you may be able to find one by doing a search for: “wipe a memory card”.

  • You talk about permanently deleting photos from a memory card, but you don’t tell me how to do it.  I’ve tried both ways…from the camera and the computer.  Nothing works.  Can you help me?  I have a Panasonic Lumix DMC-F730