Corrupted Snapshots

EiffelTowerCorrupted.jpgHave you ever noticed that if there’s something you don’t care about all that much, but then something bad happens to that “thing”, it takes on a whole new level of importance? Even better, have you ever noticed how something that is damaged can be completely out of your mind, but if you stumble upon that damaged object you’re more bothered than you probably should be? Hopefully it isn’t just me…

I was sorting through some photos, mostly looking for more images to use in some new video training courses, and I ran across a photo I had captured out the window of the metro train in Paris.

I had “discovered” a great vantage point to photograph the Eiffel Tower, though it involved photographing from a moving train as it crossed a bridge over the River Seine. You just catch the RER C line from a station north and west of the Seine, headed toward the Eiffel Tower. Then, shortly after departing the Avenue du Pr√©sident Kennedy station, the train crosses the Seine, and the view is quite nice.

I’d be the first to admit that the view is one of those better-to-experience-than-to-photograph sort of views. You leave the shelter of the station, and Paris starts whizzing by, and then the river comes into view, and then your eyes focus and you see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It really is wonderful.

I took this little train ride more than once, hoping to capture an image that conveyed the excitement of seeing the scene for the first time. Each time I would see other “newbies” on the train enjoying the sight. And each time the photos weren’t all that great. I even opened the small ventilation windows during one ride, hoping for a clearer photo that would somehow magically reflect the experience. It didn’t.

Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled with the photos. They were just snapshots that reflected a cool experience. Great to have, but nothing amazing.

So, after importing the photos into Lightroom and sorting through them, I was a little surprised at two things. First, I was a little surprised that some of the photos were clearly corrupted. Highly saturated color bands made that abundantly clear. Second, I was surprised that it actually bothered me. After all, the only images affected by the corruption were images I didn’t really care about. They were just snapshots. Cool memories, to be sure, but still just snapshots.

Fortunately, that was a few years or so ago, and I’ve not had any corrupted images since. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, and in the meantime keep hoping that if any images do get corrupted again, they’ll be pictures that I am not too worried about, at least in theory‚Ķ

Have you ever lost photos you weren’t worried about, but suddenly cared about tremendously? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below…

About Tim Grey

Tim Grey is in the business of making photographers smarter and happier. He is the author of more than a dozen books on digital imaging for photographers, has written hundreds of magazine articles, and publishes the Ask Tim Grey e-mail newsletter as well as the Pixology digital magazine. He also speaks at a variety of events and leads photography workshops around the world.
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9 Responses to Corrupted Snapshots

  1. What format was the photo in? JPEG, or raw? What sort of device did you have them stored on? Optical media? A hard drive that eventually failed? Was the file ever stored on a RAID device? Did you have backups? Were the backups also corrupted?

    I’d like to hear more about how and why you think the images became corrupted. And also what tools you think a photographer might use to go about detecting such corruption or bit rot, before it is silently pushed into backups.

    George Jardine

    • Tim Grey says:


      The photo was captured in RAW, captured to a CompactFlash card and then downloaded directly to an internal hard drive. A backup copy was made at the time to an external hard drive. When I got around to reviewing the images later in the trip, after having formatted and used the CF card again, the corruption was discovered. It affected both copies of the RAW, so I have to assume it was corrupt from the card initially (though that’s not necessarily the case).

      In this case I suspect the corruption was camera or media related. And I suspect it was corrupt right from the start. Images before and after were perfectly fine, and no other images from the trip exhibit this corruption. I also don’t use the same camera anymore. ;-)

      This is certainly an issue to be concerned about, but my sense is that it has become less frequent, not more. That said, the issue of backups propagating problems is a very real concern.


  2. Lois S says:

    Could the “corruption” have something to do with the sun shining through the glass on the train window? To me, it appears to look like refraction through several layers of glass. Were all the corrupted files shot through the train windows?

    • Tim Grey says:


      I wish that were the case, but when you zoom in on the full-resolution version of the image it is very clear to see indications of digital corruption in the file. But it does look a bit like refracted light in a reflection!


  3. Joe Becker says:

    Look on the bright side, Tim. Now you have an example of what a corrupted file can look like for your training courses and lectures :)

  4. Bob Reilly says:


    I had a somewhat similar experience with two Canon cameras; one a video and the
    other an A-75. What happened was the sensor died. Every video/picture looked like
    a kalidoscopic (sp??) waterfall, more extreme than your problem-nothing was
    recognizable! Luckily I only lost about 6 shots; the video died before I could use it
    and possibly lose the video. It turned out that the sensors in the two cameras were
    defective from their supplier. I missed out on the recall for the video camera but was able to get a recall replacement for the A-75.

    • Tim Grey says:


      This reminds me of a guy (I can’t remember his name) who had a camera he dropped into water (if I remember correctly) and ruined the camera. Except the camera still functioned. The images just looked wild because of damage to the sensor/electronics. So perhaps there’s a way to salvage that damaged camera!


  5. Thanks for sharing Tim. My family photos, including travel/holiday images, have the most value to me. My professional images have high monetary value and many have high personal value but long term it’s the family pics that got me into DAM.

  6. Kathy Eyster says:

    I’ve had some raw files display corrupted thumbnails, even enlarged corrupted previews. But opening them in ACR or using the DNG converter produced a DNG copy that was not corrupted. (I saved the originals just the same.) The corruption happened on two different cards with two different cameras, even two different computers. So I can’t make any assumptions as to the cause. For some of the earlier corrupted files, I had CD backups of the originals that were fine. So that suggests that something happened to the files during storage. Very hard to track down the cause. In my case, I had actually cared about the images (photos of bonsai trees in another state), so I was glad to be able to “rescue” them by changing to DNG format.

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