This week’s guest blogger Darla DeMorrow of HeartWork Organizing explains the basics of an external hard drive and why you need one to help organize your photos.

You have photos everywhere. Your computer. Your old computer. Maybe the computer before that. Digital cameras. Teeny tiny camera cards. Thumb drives. DVDs. Maybe 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 have grown in capacity, but not all of us have been watching where all of those photos ended up. 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. Now we feel like we have a big mess

What Is An External Hard Drive?

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. 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 Costco.

In general, they don’t look like much. 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 to buy have always been around $100, but now we’ve gone from recommending a minimum storage capacity of 500 GB to a current minimum of 2 TB of storage for about the same price.

What is An External Hard Drive? How Can an EHD Help Organize Your Photos |

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 (whichever is your preferred platform), and it will be plug and play right out of the box. 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!

Using An External Hard Drive To Organize Your Photos

There are a few ways that you can use an EHD to help with organizing your photos.

  1. You can plug it in, and move all of your existing photos onto just the one 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.
  2. You can use the drive’s installed software to run a 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 in this scenario because the hard drive is just holding a backup or a copy of your photos and files.
  3. You can use a hard drive as a parking lot to place all of your various photos, 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.

What is An External Hard Drive? How Can an EHD Help Organize Your Photos |

Backup the Backup

In any of the above scenarios, one copy is never enough. If possible, you always want to backup your computer and backup your EHD to another source. Sad but true, computers and EHDs both will break at some point. It’s just how they are made. They could break in 5 minutes, 5 months, 5 years, or 15 years, you just never know. Don’t take chances, and make sure that you have a backup of what’s on your EHD, even if your EHD is your primary 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 help you organize a lifetime of photos, however, you choose to use it in your home or business.

What is An External Hard Drive? How Can an EHD Help Organize Your Photos |

If you need help organizing and preserving your lifetime of photos, videos, and keepsakes, find a photo organizer near you at the Association of Personal Photo Organizers.

Darla DeMorrow of HeartWork Organizing
Darla DeMorrow owns HeartWork Organizing based in Pennsylvania. She’s a mom of 2, author of The Pregnant Entrepreneur, and loves helping others organize entire lives, from pantries to photos. Get your free copy of 31 Simple Tips for Organizing Nearly Everything at her website.