I’ve talked about storage workflow for photography many times before with pro’s and amateurs alike who’ve bought a ToughTech Duo from me. But I don’t believe I’ve ever posted anything on my blog about my recommended storage strategy for independent, professional (or amateur) photographers who want a reliable method for storing their images. In truth everyone needs a reliable storage policy, but too many people opt for whatever is quickest and easiest, and until they get bitten by a defective drive, a theft or some other disaster, they don’t contemplate the consequences of doing so.


This post is aimed at photographers using Adobe Lightroom as their image catalogue of choice. You can tailor the advice I’m going to give for other software (the process is almost identical for CaptureOne), or I’m more than happy to give individual advice should you need it (all the usual methods apply, social media links top left or via the contact us page is fine).


Many photographers are using laptops for portability. While this gives them an advantage when it comes to working away from an office, it does create certain limitations when it comes to storage (laptop hard drives are getting bigger, but are still restrictive for someone shooting lots of photographs). For those people with the luxury of being mainly office or studio based on a desktop machine, my preferred strategy is still essentially the same but we have the choice of using a larger storage system to take advantage of larger drive sizes.

So my ‘perfect’ configuration for both mobile and desktop users is this:


This strategy allows you to ensure your most important assets are backed up and duplicated in a logical way, providing a relatively easy way to get you working again (suffering zero data loss hopefully) with the minimum of effort should a disaster occur. Single (or ideally, dual) Time Machine backups will backup your computer’s internal drives and data, while the external RAID system will provide a safeguard against disk failure by offering mirrored data and a third ‘backup’ of all your images and catalog backups. Whatever disaster occurs, so long as you have one working Time Machine backup and one backup from the RAID, you will be able to get back to a working state fairly close to where you were before the situation occurred.

However, this might not be right for someone trying to work ‘light’ (i.e. You might not want to carry an external hard drive) so in this instance, what I suggest is doing the first import directly to the laptop (making sure not to wipe the memory cards and keeping them separate from the computer until you’ve relocated the images onto your external drive later). Depending on your camera/laptop you may need to obtain a small card reader to allow you to do this. I’d strongly recommend keeping a couple of these across all your different bags, as they have a habit of breaking or being in the bag that you left at home when you need them most. Once back to your office/hotel/home, you can then connect your external drive and relocate the full size images to your external drive by dragging them across in Lightroom (see this video from Terry White to explain that procedure).

Initial Setup

Configuration of hard drives

Firstly you need a suitable hard drive. This needs to be big enough to store what you need, and quick enough to not be a bottleneck for you. Bearing in mind that what will be stored on this drive, you must make sure that whatever drive you are using is backed up somehow. Without the full size RAW images and any edits you have made, you’re risking a loss to your business (as a professional) or loss of limbs (if you’re the person trusted in your family to maintain a collection of family photographs)!

In my diagram I show this external drive as a mirrored RAID. There’s a whole heap of information around the web about RAID, but essentially all it is is a mechanism for combining multiple disks into one unit. The different RAID levels (RAID-0, RAID-1, RAID-5 etc.) use the disks in different ways. What we are looking for is a RAID-1 device. This contains two drives (in our case) which are mirror images of each other. Your computer will see this device as just one disk, because the device itself handles the mirroring of data. The advantage of RAID-1 is if a single hard drive fails, you still have a working copy of all your data. However, with the units I recommend, there is a further advantage in that, the units I offer allow you to easily swap out a drive at any time to create a “backup” (see my video on this). I have portable units (as in the video) which can, currently, store 2TB of data, and larger (small shoebox size) units that can currently store up to 8TB (reason for me using ‘currently’ is that these figures are dependent on maximum drive capacities available to buy – these generally increase over time).

That said, you can use any external hard drive you like, but you will need to consider how you create a backup copy for safekeeping. I recommend the units I do because I find them to be the most reliable, and flexible system for most people.

We sell the ToughTech Duo (portable), RTX220 (shoebox sized) and suitable hard drives to populate them with in our webshop, but if you want to talk through your options do give me a call on 01923 555048.

I’d normally create two folders on the drive specifically for use with Lightroom; one called Lightroom Images, and a second called Lightroom Backups. The images folder can be added into Lightroom as a folder, and the backups folder should be selected on quit for backing up your catalog to. Any other data on the drive should be stored in their own folders away from your Lightroom data.

Configuration of Lightroom

As I showed you in the diagram, we are going to be putting your catalogue and smart previews on your laptops internal hard drive (which is backed up using Time Machine or the Windows equivalent right?). The full size images, whether they are RAW files or JPG’s will be stored on the external drive.

There’s a couple of options I recommend you configure if you haven’t already done these. Firstly I always make sure that my catalog is backed up every time I exit Lightroom. This option can be found in Lightroom / Catalog Settings on the General tab, along with a second setting on the Metadata tab which means that any changes to your RAW files are saved to them, and not just to your catalog file (this makes it easier to use these images in other applications if you wish). See the images for what to change here.

Catalog Settings/Metadata Catalog Settings/General

Importing into Lightroom

I find it best to set up a couple of different Import Presets. One will be for when you are connected to your external hard drive, the other for when you’re not. The process of doing this is quite simple. When you first do an import to each location, set the import process up to import to that location, ensure Build Smart Previews is ticked in the File Handling section on the right hand side and any other settings you wish to use. Then, before pressing the Import button, click on the Import Preset section (centred at the bottom of the Import window). From here you can save the configuration of your import as a Preset by clicking on ‘Save Current Settings as a New Preset’ and calling it something appropriate (e.g.. External and Temporarily Internal). Once you have done this for both methods, you’ll have the Preset’s ready to use whenever you need them in future.

For the record here, on the advise of much more knowledgable photographers than myself, I always ‘Copy As DNG’.

Backing Up

Your catalog should be backed up every time you close down Lightroom (if you followed the instructions earlier), as well as some performing some routine maintenance. Make sure that your backups are to the external drive. Unfortunately Lightroom doesn’t automatically remove backups at a given time, so you will need to go and prune the backups folder on your external RAID from time to time. Older backups are easy to identify because the folder names include a date and time, I generally keep backups for a month or so, but you can decide on what’s appropriate based on your own needs.

If you go with the ToughTech Duo or RTX220 RAID’s that we offer, you can follow the process I show in my video. If you use a different type of mirrored drive system, you’ll need to work out how to achieve this with your choice. If you need any further help on this, we’d be happy to help you via any of the usual contact methods.

And of course, it should go without saying, that “backup” drive should never, ever, ever be left with your computer and/or RAID unit. If the worst were to happen, you’d want that drive to be somewhere else so you could retrieve your data. This might sound like an effort, but if you ever need to revert to this drive, you’ll be so pleased you did it.


This is a fairly basic overview of my recommended storage workflow for photographers. As always, your requirements might not always be “typical”, so take my suggestions above and consider your own needs. If you want a quick chat about your options, feel free to contact us on the form below for a free 15 minute storage consultation during which time we’ll offer you some specific suggestions that fit your requirements.