File Storage Options – What You Need to Know

Happy-New-Year-Images-2018-HD-1-1The start of a new year.  Time to consider shaping up – not only personally but maybe for your photography workflow.  How can you do things better?  At the very least, you’ve probably accumulated a huge amout of content this year.  Are you running out of storage space?  And are you safeguarding your work appropriately?

Managing and safeguarding your photographs is a personal decision with lots of options. Built-in computer hard drives are bigger and faster every year.  But there’s also detachable hard drives and network hard drives and online storage.  How do you choose the right combination?

I’ve used mixtures of all of the above over the years, and currently assign files to different storage options based on importance and where they are in my workflow.  I also need a clean, easy way to organize my content – client files here, personal files there.

With image volumes increasing, I recently looked into just how well these options are working for me, and here’s what I discovered.  One disclaimer:  these options may not be right for you.  It’s about what you feel comfortable with and what you are willing to spend.

Apple Computer

First, the computer.  The latest computers and their operating systems, let’s face it, help you prepare for the day when something will go wrong.  Depending on whether you are a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty person, you may or may not welcome the system prompts to establish and conduct regular backups.  You still have the choice of using only your computer hard drive for storage, but you may be nagged occasionally not to do so.  If you ignore the advice, most modern computers now have restoration algorithms that try really hard to access and preserve your files in the event of a system failure.  You can even “clean install” your operating system without, in most cases, affecting your files.  I had to do that last year.  I’m now in the glass-half-full camp.

But my files weren’t compromised, because they were also backed up.  Here’s how.

Hard DriveDetachable hard drives now come in a huge number of configurations, speeds and sizes. Even the most basic can store thousands of files.  Higher-end models are multiple terabytes in size and increasingly fast and they work seamlessly with the backup software on your computer (or with software included on the drive).  Alternatively, you can have multiple hard drives, one for each client, subject or year and manage the backup process yourself.  I use a detachable drive for automatic backup of my whole computer, not just image files.  I set it up once, check it once in a while, but otherwise leave it alone.

wd-my-cloud-network-attached-storage-product-overview.png.imgw.1000.1000Network hard drives are similar to detachable drives, except you eliminate the hassle of physically attaching and detaching the drive(s) to your computer.  They also enable several computers to back up files simultaneously.  Depending on the model you select, you may be able to access the files over the Internet.  You can also create a stacked array of multiple network drives, each with a different purpose, or have one drive mirror another to create multiple backups of the same files.  I use a network drive to house all of my original images when I first import them from the camera.  Adobe Lightroom lets me automatically direct a copy to the drive, making it seamless.  In fact, I use this drive to store anyting “original”, including purchased software, books, videos, music.  I also use it to “archive” anything I’m finished with.

The only issues with either detachable or network hard drives, of course, are the cost, where to put them and how to stay ahead of content growth.  And the hard drives are physically in the same location as your computer, so for the glass-half-empty people, the risk of loss might be increased if something were to happen in that location (fire, flood, etc.).

Online-StorageOnline storage has come a long way in just a few years, offering larger storage volumes, faster speeds, the ability to access files through any connected device and the ability to share with others.  I’ve used online storage for a long time, but last year, looked at it for storing all my photographs.  I concentrated on the big names:  Microsoft’s OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox,, and those dedicated to photography such as Adobe, SmugMug and Photoshelter.  I’ve also looked at services whose main purpose is sharing, such as 500px and Flickr.  It’s taken a while to sort through the offerings, but here’s what I’ve learned:

pexels-photo-266176.jpegMany online storage options are today coupled to website builders, or preformatted pages, so you not only store your photographs online, but display and even sell them from the same product (Smugmug, Photoshelter, 500px, FlickrAdobe Portfolio).

Adobe’s Photography Plan now offers varying degrees of online storage coupled to their monthly software subscription plan.  And Microsoft’s OneDrive can be purchased standalone, but is also offered bundled with their productivity suite, Office 365.

Many of these coupled services don’t store files in their original formats, but specify format and size for ease of storage and display.

shutterstock_109953749If you just want storage, there are a variety of services and “packages”, each priced based on how much you would like to store.  So answer these questions before you go looking:

  1. Will the online service be your primary storage location or just a backup?  There are advantages and disadvantages to both arrangements, including minimizing the files you keep on your computer vs. being unable to work if you don’t have an Internet connection.  Some storage plans such as Dropbox optionally offer a type of smart file that will store an icon on your computer but not actually download the file until you need to access it.
  2. Do you do a lot of creative editing of your files, resulting in huge GB file sizes?  Larger files cost more to store online and take longer to upload and download.  Some services “throttle” their upload and download speeds, to ensure you can continue to use the Internet for other things as you work.
  3. How often do you revise your files?  Most services offer what’s called “version history” so that you can retrieve a previous version of a file if you need it.  But some services, like Microsoft’s OneDrive, add each version to your storage quota, so that a 10MB file with 10 versions will actually take up 100MB online.
  4. How important is security?  While all of the major services protect your files, some use “end to end encryption” ( and claim no ability to access your files, while others (Google Drive) retain the right to access and modify your files if needed to ensure the service remains healthy.

synchronize-16All of the storage service providers I looked at offer the choice of working exclusively online or “synchronizing” files so that a copy remains on the computer and can also optionally be synchronized to every other computer and device you own.  However, if you are using a cataloguing program such as Adobe’s Lightroom, the files cannot be housed exclusively on a cloud service (although Adobe is moving to this model with its newest version of Lightroom.  The catch though is that you will have to use their storage service.)  Until then, the computer-based version of their catalogue needs to point to a physical hard drive.

shareAll of the storage service providers also include a way of sharing files with others.  This can be a single file, single folder or even the entire collection.  Shared rights can include modifying files or just viewing files.  Files are shared through links created by the service that you email to those who need it.  No logon is required.  This is my favourite aspect of cloud storage.

ExpensiveMoving image files across the Internet can get expensive if you have a limited Internet plan.  Don’t forget to factor a possible Internet upgrade cost into your decision.

I use cloud services for four things:  backup of current projects, sharing files, and offloading content that isn’t ready for archive but that I no longer need to house on my computer.  I also back up my Adobe Lightroom catalogue to a cloud service, with the original continuing to reside on my computer.


Having investigated the latest offerings, for the money, my new favourite is, offering large amounts of storage at very reasonable cost, end to end encyrption, lots of help, fast upload/download (and for us Canadians, storage in Canada).  Next is Dropbox, which is secure, but offers some convenience options for faster synchronization.  They also currently have better integration of their service with Windows, Apple and Google apps.  My least favourite is Microsoft’s OneDrive, which came with my Office 365 plan.  Their service can be slow (in my view), imposes some unreasonable limitations (file names, etc.), has malfunctioned when I tried to share materials, and counts every version against my quota.  Google Drive is right there too, as I find even their default settings clunky to use, their storage very costly, and don’t forget their right of access to all files.  But the latter two initially come “free” with their respective accounts, so I guess you get what you pay for.

There you have it.  I’ve settled on a mix of storage options that works beautifully for me right now.  But it takes work to research what’s out there and to weigh the pros and cons.  So start the new year off with a bang and review your own workflow.  You might find some wonderful opportunities for efficiency and savings.

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