Last year around this time, I put out a piece on storage options, both online and local, for the vast collection of photographs that we are all accumulating.
Although I use cloud storage as my primary storage option, most of these services “sync” at least some of that content to a local hard drive. Until today, that hard drive was my computer hard drive. But I’ve now run out of room on the local drive, and had to make a choice about where to put the local copies. Here’s what I came up with.
It’s no revelation that the final solution involves a high capacity external hard drive, attached to but separate from the mothership. What surprised me, once I went searching, were the options for hardware and how to configure the drive for optimal performance.
I’ve long resisted having something attached to my computer. I like the option of picking up the machine, plopping it into a bag and heading out. Now cables and another object have to go too. I’ve already made the mistake once of leaving the drive behind, creating a situation where my photo editing software couldn’t reference it and wasn’t happy. Neither were my cloud services. But I digress…
One of the more popular options today for external hard drive space is a solid state drive. Fast, with no moving parts, these units don’t compromise performance at all when linked externally. The main issue is price. I quickly filled up my 1TB onboard hard drive with software and files. A minimum 2TB external drive would be required to make the external storage option workable for me. The lowest cost I have found for a 2TB solid state external hard drive is around $700CDN. While solid state drives are gaining in availability and popularity, pricing isn’t there yet for me in terms of a larger capacity bulk storage option.
Cloud storage providers have also made some adjustments to help. They have realized that offering cloud storage while still requiring files to be stored locally for inventory defeats one of the main purposes of cloud storage – less demand on the computer.
Since cloud storage was first offered, you’ve always had the ability to selectively sync files so that those not needed right now are not stored on the computer. But that meant you had no indication locally of what was stored in the cloud (you had to rely on your memory), and selective sync generally applied to whole folders, not individual files.
Now many providers, including Microsoft, Google and Dropbox, also provide a user selectable “smart sync” option to essentially place thumbnails of individuals documents on the hard drive as pointers to the actual documents stored in the cloud. Only when you need them and click on them will they download and open on the computer. Apple has used this approach for a long time, offering automatic conversion to thumbnails for photos stored on their iPhone and iPad products, once internal storage capacity is reached. Again, the limiting factor is how much cloud storage you have purchased.
I liked this idea until I realized that I had to be connected to the Internet to work. And most photo editing software can’t reference these thumbnails in their catalogues. Adobe Lightroom does have the ability to be disconnected from an external hard drive while still allowing work to be done on photographs. Changes are applied to a stored “preview” version of the image and then sync’d with the drive once it is connected. I’m not aware of whether this capability now extends to files stored in the cloud (since I no longer use Lightroom) but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.
Adobe also offers Adobe-based cloud storage for images and a new cloud-based version of Lightroom. I guess this is the future. But cost is a consideration – $9.99USD a month provides access to both 1TB of cloud storage and the cloud-based version of Lightroom. Additional storage can be purchased, at what to me is a relatively high cost of around $100USD per year per TB. I am able to purchase cloud storage with another provider for half that cost.
There is an old saying: you can have it good, have it fast, or have it cheap, but you can’t have all three. While all of the above options had something appealing, none were perfect.
So for now, I’ve decided to go with good and cheap, opting for a 4TB traditional spinning disk hard drive linked with a high speed connection to my computer. Total cost: about $150CDN. The tradeoff is speed, and I do “pay for it” when working on complex photo edits. The software may at times lag or stutter, requiring patience and more than a few walk-away breaks to let things finish. There will be a better solution in my future eventually, but for now, 75% of my work is handled well with this arrangement.
I’d love to hear your ideas and solutions. What works for you? How are you handling your growing collection of photographs? Leave me a comment, or send me a note.