You have photos everywhere. Your computer. Your old computer. Maybe the computer before that. Digital cameras. Teeny tiny camera cards that are constantly getting lost in the junk drawer. Thumb drives. DVD’s. Even those old floppy drives! Did you have some printed photos scanned? Those are now digital, too. On the cloud. Or maybe on a few clouds, you aren’t even sure anymore. When did photos get so complicated and messy?
Digital photography has only been around for about 10 years, and we’ve all used many different types of digital storage in just a few short years. The price of storage devices has come down as they’ve gotten larger capacity, but not all of us were watching where all of those photos ended up, and now we feel like we have a big mess. Sometimes we might have copied photos from one place to another, but that only made the mess bigger, since now we’ve almost certainly got duplicates!
One very helpful tool to start to deal with all of this mess is an External Hard Drive, or EHD for short. There are many brands of EHDs, and for the most part they are all roughly equal in performance for the average user. An EHD will run about $100 for about 2 Terabytes of storage (as of 2017). You can easily purchase one online at places like Amazon or wherever you get your computer supplies, from small local stores to big box stores like BestBuy, and even warehouse stores like Cosco. In general, they don’t look like much. They are about the size of a wallet, and they just sit on the desk and plug into your computer with a USB cord. Every year they get either cheaper or larger in capacity. For the last few years, the ones you want have always been around $100, but we’ve gone from recommending a minimum storage capacity of 500 GB to now a minimum of 2 TB of storage.
An EHD is an economical way to increase the storage capacity of your computer. You simply plug it in, and your computer will see it as another drive, like the D: drive instead of your computer’s default C: drive. You don’t need an advanced degree to use it.
The easiest thing to do is purchase a drive that is formatted for a PC or a Mac, and it will be plug-and-play right out of the box. But you can also reformat an EHD to work on both a PC and a Mac, usually through some menus within the hard drive’s pre-installed software. There are also plenty of tutorials on the web that can walk you through doing this. It’s not hard. Just remember that you don’t want to re-format your drive that already has your pictures on it, or it will delete them forever!
There are a few ways that you can use an EHD to help with organizing your photos.
- You can plug it in, and move all of your existing photos onto just the drive, in order to remove them from your computer. You can then tell your computer that all new photos should be stored on the EHD. You’ll save space on your computer this way.
- You can use the drive’s installed software to run a periodic or continuous backup of all or some of the data on your computer. In this case, you decide how often the backup occurs, and what is getting backed up. But you don’t save space on your main computer, because the external hard drive is just holding a backup, or a copy of your photos.
- You can use a hard drive as a parking lot to place all of your various photos onto, wherever they are from. You can gather all of your photos together from your computers, your thumb drives, disks, and even downloads from cloud services. This is a great tool, because once gathered together, you can then use a software program to remove duplicates, and then you can finally have all of your photos in one place.
In any of the above scenarios, one copy is never enough. If possible, you always want to backup your computer, and also backup your EHD to another source. Sad but true, computers and EHD’s both will break at some point. It’s just how they are made. They could break in 5 minutes, 5 month, 5 years, or 15 years, you just never know. So don’t take chances, and make sure that you have a backup of what’s on your EHD, even if your EHD is the backup. Services like Carbonite and Backblaze are good choices to backup everything on your computer, and Forever has become a popular choice for securely backing up just photos.
Professional Photo Organizers like members of APPO recommend using the 3-2-1 rule: at least 3 copies of your photos on 2 different types of media, with at least one copy stored off-site.
The most important thing to remember is that an EHD only works if you plug it in.
Bottom line, an EHD is a relatively inexpensive tool to use to help you organize a lifetime of photos, however you choose to use it in your home or business.