LAST MONTH, several of my Compact Flash cards started misbehaving and I lost dozen of Happy Christmas images, some shot in the room at left. I recovered most of them by following a series of steps that I learned from other photographers who taught me a few things about digital data storage. One practise worth mentioning--don't use gig cards in cameras when you can get away with several 512MB fast-writing cards. A second practise we follow when on the road in Tipperary Institute: download the images every three hours or retire the card and snap in another.
When we download the images, we CUT and PASTE them onto the receiving computer's hard drive through a PC Card reader, not a USB cable connection. The files have never encountered a write error that way. I've seen cable connections induce write errors and often that means the card's data partition or File Allocation Table (FAT) corrupts.
If you corrupt the FAT, you need to see if a scan finds the data on the card. You should not use the memory card for anything else. You should not follow the camera's prompt and initialise the card. You need to use a card recovery tool, such as CardRecovery by the WinRecovery software programmers.
I've used CardRecovery for myself and friends to resurrect lost, deleted or corrupted items on SmartMedia, Compact Flash, Secure Digital, xD, MMC and Memory Sticks. Sometimes I was fishing for files that students thought they had deleted from view. One time I deleted a Word document so it would not appear in view and then restored it after someone finished using my laptop with the CF card installed. I've seen CardRecovery in use by computer hospitals and disk doctors.
Having a data recovery plan in mind is necessary for anyone who carries a digital camera. Once you take 10,000 images with the camera, you're into unwrite land. (Bonus Link: Image #10000 snapped with my digital camera.) The digital cards won't perform reliably after 10,000 read-write operations. If you've snapped 10,000 digital photos without encountering a problem, you didn't have to read this post. You probably have more than a single removeable data card in your bag and you've taken important first step to avoiding a loss.