How to Choose an External Hard Drive for Photographers

We like to complain about how much space photos take up on a phone, but as a photographer, they’re going to take up even more storage on your computer.

From RAW files to edits and uncompressed high-definition shots, images are almost certainly taking a chunk out of your machine’s capacity. This is undesirable for more than a few reasons.

All the photos will force your computer to run slower, make it harder to install the programs you need, and be stuck in one place.

Alternatively, you can move your photos to an external drive. This drive is just like the one in your computer, except that it’s portable and expands your available storage.

From traditional HDDs (hard disk drives) to modern SSDs (solid-state drives), with a little storage to a lot, there’s definitely something to meet your needs.

In this article, we’ll show you a few things to consider when looking for the best external drives for photos so you save time exploring.

Should Photographers Use External Hard Drives?

The answer is a sound yes! If you’re a photographer, you should definitely consider using external hard drives to store and back up your photos.

An external hard drive provides a convenient and reliable way to store a large number of photos and can be easily transported to different locations.

They also allow for easy access to your stored images and can serve as a backup in case your memory card or compute hard drive fails. Also, the use of multiple external hard drives can help you protect against data loss due to hardware malfunctions or failure.

That said, if you don’t take many pictures or aren’t too concerned with your computer’s storage, you could always try a cloud backup system or a flash drive, but be aware your space will be limited with either option.

Choosing an External Drive for Photos: What to Consider

Here are a few key factors that you should take into account while shopping for an external drive for storing your photographs.

Type of Hard Drive

When you think of a hard drive, you probably picture the physical spinning disk that has traditionally been used and is common in many computers.

This is called an HDD, but there is another type of drive, the SSD, that is available. SSDs use flash storage (like on small jump drives) and have no moving parts, making them more reliable. However, they tend to be more expensive.


If you purchase an HDD, it will be formatted for either macOS or Windows use (a few drives are formatted to work on both, but this is uncommon).

You can always reformat the drive, but this will erase all of its content, so if you go this route please make sure you plan on using the drive on only one type of operating system.

An SSD is usually cross-compatible, so this is the better choice if you plan to access your photos from a variety of places.

Also Read: How to format a flash drive for Mac and PC compatibility

Storage Capacity

Your number one concern should be how much space your drive of choice offers. Too little space and you’ll be forced to go through lengthy upgrades/file transfers or to buy new drives.

Too much space (for example, if you intend to use separate drives each year) and you’re paying unnecessarily for storage you won’t use.

1GB of space is roughly 500 images at a standard resolution taken with a phone camera — but this number goes down when you use multiple file versions per image, higher resolutions, and better cameras. You’ll want at least 500 GB of space, if not more.

HDD vs. SSD: Which One is Better for Photographers?

When it comes to external hard drives for photography, there are two types to choose from, including traditional spinning hard drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs).

Both types have their own benefits and drawbacks. If you’re having a hard time deciding between HDD & SSD drives, here are a few pointers:


  • Lower cost per GB
  • Very common and have been used for many years
  • Formatted for a single system
  • More susceptible to damage


  • Higher cost per GBIncreasing popularity
  • Formatted for all systems
  • More reliable due to lack of moving parts
  • Higher max read/write speeds

You can also check out this video on the matter if you’re still unsure.

In general, a combination of both HDD and SSD drives is a good option where the speedy SSD can be used for performance-sensitive tasks such as editing and previewing images, and the larger capacity HDD for backup and storage purposes.

Final Thoughts

An external drive is absolutely necessary for a photographer. Your images take up space — perhaps not physically as a roll of film would, but certainly digitally in the form of original shoots, edits, and more.

No one wants to delete old photos unnecessarily, and the solution is simple. Whether you choose an HDD or SSD, 500GB or 4TB, you’ll be set up with a compact and effective storage system that will keep your images safe for years to come.

Of course, keeping them all organized is a different matter, but if you have a method for doing so or a drive recommendation, drop us a comment below!

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