Photo Storage for the Professional Photographer

Today’s professional photographer has a myriad of digital tools at their disposal to create content more easily and with better results than ever before. Gone are the days of the required darkroom, chemicals, and expensive, specially-treated paper photographers used to produce photos, the digital revolution changed all that. Now, results are instant–thanks to digital cameras and digital storage–photographers don’t have to wait to develop photos in order to view them.

Whether you’re an experienced professional, or recently new to photography, this article will cover the tools to make your job easier and achieve the best results. We’ll assume you’ve already chosen the best digital camera(s) for your needs and will instead focus on digital storage, how to manage your library of work, edit and optimize images, and how to archive and share with others. Let’s explore and answer some common questions many photographers have such as:

Understanding Photo Storage

Solid-State Drive (SSD) Versus Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
If you ask most photographers, they’ll say you can never have enough storage. That’s because photographers want to keep most of their work, and not throw any usable images away. They’ll also want to have 2–3 backups of their work, making certain that their images are protected in the case of any unforeseen catastrophes, like drive failure or accidental damage. To address the challenges facing photographers today, there are some good HDD and SSD solutions to choose from.

HDD for Photo Storage
HDDs are the most cost-effective way to store lots of files, since they are available in massive capacities (up to 18 TB in a single drive). Hard disk drives are also great for archiving because they are designed to store data reliably for extended periods of time.

SSD for Photo Storage
Then, there are SSDs for photography that are pricier per TB than HDDs; however they transfer and access data faster. SSDs also have the advantage of being lightweight and durable while on the go.

As you fill up drives with your work, they become archives in themselves and you can organize and store them as you see fit. When you need more storage, you can simply buy more or erase existing storage to fit new work, or just keep your existing data as a physical backup of your work. Also, consider compiling all your “little” drives into one big drive for easy organization.

SD and microSD Cards

Old-fashioned film-equipped cameras have become outdated and have given way to digital cameras that can store hundreds or even thousands of high-quality photos using an onboard, removable flash memory card. These SD and microSD cards come in a variety of speeds and capacities. Just make sure to choose one that is compatible with your device. We suggest you buy a card that’s faster than your camera is rated. A faster rated card will speed up your workflow when it’s time to offload your photos.

SD cards arrived on the scene first and are slightly bigger in size than microSD cards; in fact, most microSD cards are sold with an SD card adapter so that they can be used in standard SD readers. Functionality between the two form factors remains essentially the same. The smaller microSD is used in compact devices like smartphones, portable game consoles, and tablets, whereas many cameras come equipped with an SD card slot that accepts both SD and microSD cards (with an adapter).

Offloading and Backing Up Your Work

The removable flash storage in your camera starts to fill up as you take photos. The number of photos you can store depends on the photo resolution you set. HD (or, High Resolution) photos will fill up a card faster than SD (Standard Definition) photos, because their file size is much larger.

Many professional photographers prefer to shoot in RAW format, at a very high resolution. This method can fill up flash storage quickly. At some point your flash card will reach maximum capacity and require offloading or erasure of files to make room for new photos.

Most photographers will want to review their work on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone and decide which photos to keep, and which to delete. Once you have all the photos you want to keep, you will want to store them on digital media that will preserve them reliably, while enabling you to edit and share them with colleagues. There are several ways to do this:

Keep the photos you want on the SD card creating an archive (kind of like keeping the ‘negatives’), and then insert a new, blank SD card into your camera to start shooting again.

Choose a portable drive or USB flash drive that will give you the flexibility to transport your work between devices - like from a laptop to your studio or home workstation.

External desktop drives have comparable storage to a portable drive, but reside at home or office and have extended capacity.

Use internal drives for faster editing than with external drives. Choose a laptop or PC with a fast internal drive or upgrade your current device with a fast internal drive.

Multiple-Drive RAID devices that are transportable for remote jobs, and fast when you’re dealing with massive amounts of data like super high-resolution photos or RAW format photos.

Cloud storage lets you upload to a remote server and allows you to access your files from wherever internet is available.

Use a Wi-Fi enabled drive that will offload photos from your Wi-Fi equipped camera directly to the drive as you shoot.

Portable Drives for Photographers

Today’s professional photographers can choose from a variety of storage form factors, capacities and speeds. Let’s take a look at some of the best photo storage devices:

Portable Hard Disk Drive

Portable Hard Disk Drives are a popular choice because they’re versatile and are available in a variety of capacities. Most are HDD-based and equipped with a USB interface - make sure to check which USB version is right for your computer.

  • The most common is USB 3.0.
  • Newer computers have USB-C or Thunderbolt connections which deliver speeds much faster than USB 3.0.

Portable Solid State Drives

Portable Solid State Drives deliver faster speeds than HDDs, but in lower capacities and share the same types of USB interface as HDD portable drives.

  • These drives are great for photo editing on the SSD itself because of their fast response times.
  • Solid state drives can be more resilient in the field because they have no moving parts and can withstand the occasional jostle or accidental drop.

Transportable RAID Devices

Transportable RAID devices group two or more SSDs or HDDs to work together in a specially-designed enclosure to deliver massive capacities and increased speeds depending on which RAID configuration you choose.

  • Usually equipped with specially-tuned SSDs or HDDs designed to work in an always-on RAID environment.

Online Photo Storage Solutions for Photographers

Online solutions are great options in terms of capacity and flexibility. Here are some elements to consider:

Online Storage Solutions

Online storage solutions, cloud services, like Dropbox, Box®, and Amazon AWS® typically require a monthly charge for storage space (and sometimes a monthly maintenance fee), once a user has exceeded the initial amount of free capacity provided. Photos are uploaded to a remote server and can be accessed from anywhere, provided you have internet access. 

Personal Cloud / NAS

Encourage collaboration with your team by setting up a Network Attached Server (NAS) – a single or multi-drive device that is attached to your home or office network and allows remote access to anyone with permission and an internet connection. 

Photos and other media can be uploaded, edited and shared remotely, while all files remain in a single, accessible-from-anywhere online repository. The advantage here is that there are no monthly fees since the initial setup establishes a connection using your own internet services.

The Professional Photographer’s Photo Storage Workflow

1.     Setting up the Camera and Capturing Images

The photographer’s workflow process begins with a quality digital camera. You have your choice between formats:

  • Most photographers prefer to shoot in the RAW format. RAW images can be compressed or uncompressed and use all of the data captured by the camera’s sensor, so photos have a much higher file size than jpeg photos. RAW images must be edited and processed before they are ready for export, giving the photographer full control over exposure, color balance, resolution and more.
  • The JPEG format is a compressed format that may not require any post-production work and is more common among casual photographers. Depending on your camera, you can determine in advance what color profile, compression, image resolution and white balance settings to use for the optimal results without post-production editing.


2.     Transfer Images to Your Smart Device or Laptop

There are several ways to transfer images to your smartphone, laptop or tablet:

  • Connect the SD / microSD / CompactFlash / XQD / CFExpress card to your computer via a built-in card reader or by using a USB-enabled card reader connected to an available USB port or, connect your camera directly to your computer via an available USB port.
  • Wi-Fi enabled cameras first write the image to an internal memory card, then can offload photos directly to a cloud server or Wi-Fi enabled storage device. Note: Digital cameras cannot take a photo without a memory card inserted.
  • There are programs like Apple iPhoto®, Hedge®, Adobe Lightroom®, and Adobe Bridge® (among others) that can automate the process and help keep your files organized and tagged properly. These applications move data safely and provide logs that verify each file was successfully copied and not corrupted. They also (conveniently) resume if a transfer is interrupted. 
  • Use an external portable drive or NAS array to backup and archive the photos you want to keep. Performing a backup of your work to a separate device is the best way to prevent loss or accidental deletion.
  • Use your computer’s interface to move or copy desired files onto a connected storage device while deleting unwanted photos, this frees up space on the card to accommodate new photos. However, this method is not recommended as there is a potential risk of losing data. There is also always the option of upgrading your internal capacity so you don’t need to transfer files as often.

3.     Edit and Process Images

Once you have offloaded your images on to a device, it’s time for a quality review. Go through each photo and edit as necessary. Make color corrections, retouching, exposure fixes, and more in your favorite photo editing tool like Adobe Photoshop® or Lightroom.

Photo editing can be a time consuming process depending on what you want to correct in any given image. This step is crucial for separating good images from ones that you want to discard. If you don’t want to throw any images away, you can offload ‘rejects’ onto a portable drive for consideration later on.


4.     Organize, Backup and Archive

Once you have reviewed and edited your photos, you’ll want to sort through them, arranging them in folders, and giving them thoughtful filenames for easy retrieval later on. If you want to forego the tedious process of doing this manually, you have the option of using applications like Adobe Lightroom or Apple iPhoto which can automate a lot of the work.

Of course, you don’t want hundreds of photos taking up space on your computer and possibly slowing it down in the process, so creating an organized backup of your work is key to easily finding what you need later on.

Our backup rule is simple: 3-2-1. Three copies, two locations, and one copy to work from. Since your photography is your livelihood, having 2-3 backups in different locations will help make sure your images are preserved. Consider using several devices to hold different collections for easy access:


SD / microSD cards or thumb / flash drives for limited amounts of data

Desktop, cloud or NAS storage devices for massive amounts of storage

Portable HDD or SSD drives for higher capacities

5.     Exporting Images

Whether you’re preparing images for the web or print, you’ll need a way to export them. There are several ways to do this:

  • For print purposes, you can copy your final images to a thumb drive and SD card for easy mail or email delivery to a remote print studio. You can also burn them to a DVD or CD. Also, some vendors provide an FTP upload service for instant transfer delivery.
  • Share your images on a personal cloud server and invite others to share, or if you have a lot of images, you can copy them to a portable drive for easy transport to a remote location.
  • Web images are usually lighter in file size and can be emailed or uploaded electronically to a remote server. Whichever way you choose, be sure to make a backup of your work in case something goes wrong with the transfer, or the file is accidentally lost or erased.


Professional Photographer’s Q&A