What’s the best storage option for photographers?
No matter what kind of photographer you are, you’re likely to be generating hundreds of gigabytes of photographs on a regular basis. And photographic files are only getting bigger: the advent of RAW images plus the ability to store more and more on camera means that photographic trips are, at least digitally-speaking, getting larger and larger.
The problem is exacerbated because laptop drives aren’t actually getting bigger. In fact, they’re getting smaller, thanks largely to fast, quiet SSDs taking over from spinning drives. An average Mac now has a 512GB SSD fitted as standard: not that long ago, it was 1Tb.
Cloud storage looks like the answer. It’s ubiquitous, available from every device and from anywhere there’s a decent internet connection. It’s also reliable, in the sense that it’s much less likely that Google or Dropbox will have a disastrous outage which loses your files than you will do that with your own storage.
The ability to upload content from almost anywhere, though, is a huge advantage for any photographer who travels. Yes, it can be slow, particularly over the average hotel Wi-Fi, but even if you confine yourself to uploading only the best shots while on a trip, it’s worth it in terms of peace of mind.
But it can also be ferociously expensive. Even though the prices of cloud storage keep dropping, 1Tb of Google Drive storage will cost you $9.99 every month. Once you get into the multi-terabyte range, you’re going to be paying a lot more.
Personal cloud storage systems offer photographers something of a middle way between an all-cloud based solution and simply relying on hard drives you carry around with you. The idea is simple: take a big, fast hard drive and turn it, in effect, into a network attached storage device capable of being accessed from the internet.
Effectively, your hard drive sits on your home network, and you can access it from anywhere, either through a web browser or software on your Windows or Mac PC. There’s usually mobile apps, too, so you can manage (and upload images) from a mobile phone.
On your laptop, personal cloud storage is sometimes configured so that it just appears like a local hard drive. This means you can use the drive to store and work with Lightroom catalogs, although it’s worth noting that Lightroom stores some of its files locally so you can’t use a personal cloud device as a method of creating true multi-user catalogs.
The price you pay for “owning your own cloud” like this is speed. No network-based storage system is going to be as fast as a locally-attached drive. However, the advantage you get is that your storage is safely at home while you’re on the road, so there’s no chance of accidentally leaving your entire photo library in a hotel room or a “helpful” luggage handler putting it on a flight to South America when you’re on your way to Heathrow.
Belt and braces
But whatever system you use, if your images are important to you – and they are to all photographers – you want to have a workflow which includes multiple systems. Think of the personal cloud as your first line of defence against losing your work: it’s more convenient and cheaper than paying hundreds per month for cloud storage, but less secure as it depends on the security of your home or office. If your home is burgled and your personal cloud system stolen, your images are gone.
That’s why a “belt and braces” approach is probably the best option for the serious or semi-serious photographer. Using a personal cloud system to store ever image you take, then pay for enough cloud storage to transfer your best, edited shots once you’re happy with them. This way, you have the best and most secure system you can possibly get without paying to store images that may not have been your best.
This editorially independent article was supported by Western Digital