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The Best External Hard Drive for Photographers: Our Top 10 Picks for 2021

When it comes to keeping copies of your photos, some of you may not have even considered the need for external hard drives. However, these are key to keeping your photos safe. Ideally, you’ll have copies of your photos on multiple external hard drives. Is it time you looked for some external hard drives for photographers?

We’ve narrowed down today’s best solutions based on these four specific needs:

The Importance of Backing Up on External Hard Drives

As a photographer, you might be wondering why you should have external hard drives. The reason is simple, keeping files separate from your computer is important. If your computer fails, you don’t lose every image you’ve ever captured. Instead, they’re all stored on a drive, which can be plugged into a new computer and you stay up and running.

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Add to that the aspect of portability and you’re starting to see the bigger picture. If you have drives, you can plug in and go on any computer. This is great for if you have multiple work stations.

However, there’s something very important to consider. If you put all your images on drives, you should ideally have multiple external hard drives, too. This is because, like computers, external hard drives fail too.

Choosing an External Hard Drive for Photographers

When it comes to picking your external hard drives, it can be difficult to determine what drive you want. More often than not, external hard drives are costly and come with varying features.

We’ll break down these features, to hopefully give you a better understanding.

To start off, there are two major types of external hard drives: desktop, and portable. Desktop hard drives are larger and usually offer more storage space. They also require an AC power supply, in most cases. Portable hard drives, on the other hand, are small, easy to carry around, and require no external power. They typically have smaller storage space options, but there can be overlap.

Other features that come into play are structural integrity, noise levels, aesthetics, and most importantly, storage space.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the best external hard drives for photographers.

The Best External Hard Drives for Photographers

Best for Reliability

With such precious contents, most photographers can’t afford to take chances with their drives. In our opinion, the reliability of a drive primarily depends on the following aspects:

  1. The ability to keep data safe and secure
  2. The ability to withstand any and all harmful external elements
  3. A long running-life of the hard drive itself

Here are two drives that are sure to offer good protection for your files. 

1. Portable: LaCie BOSS SSD

LaCie BOSS external hard drive for photographers

LaCie have had our praises in the past with their Thunderbolt model. And while this is still a solid option, it might be time for an upgrade. Which is why we’re naming the BOSS SSD hard drive in our list of external hard drives for photographers. The BOSS SSD goes above and beyond to keep files protected without compromising accessibility. 

Like its predecessor, the moving parts of the BOSS are cushioned with durable, protective materials, making it an ideal choice for all-terrain use. LaCie claims that the drive is drop and dustproof, as well as splash resistant.

Unlike most portable drives, this external hard drive is powered by a battery and can be accessed by an app on your mobile. Through this, you can review, rename, and delete files. You can also upload images directly to the drive using its built-in SD card reader.

When it comes to computer usage, the drive is compatible with both Mac and Windows operating systems.

No matter what situation you happen to find yourself in, you can confidently depend on the BOSS to be able to do its job.

2. Desktop: Toshiba Canvio for Desktop

Toshiba Canvio Desktop

While the Toshiba Canvio may not be as rugged as LaCie’s BOSS, it offers similar peace of mind. For Mac and Windows users alike, it’s a device trustworthy enough to guard your most important data. 

This external hard drive offers local and Cloud backup options to add an extra layer of recoverability. This means that should the drive fail, you’ll have access to the files through cloud storage, too. It’s spacious enough to house plenty of large image files, and Toshiba goes the extra mile to ensure that all of it is secure. Beyond providing a place to house your images, users may also apply password protection for sensitive materials. 

Positive reviews overwhelmingly praise the reliability Canvio offers to homes and offices. Even skeptics can breathe a sigh of relief. With purchase, Toshiba offers a 2-year warranty that covers any mishaps you may run into with your drive.  

Toshiba 4TB Canvio for Desktop 7200 RPM External Hard Drive, USB 3.0...
  • Compact, versatile design helps reduce desktop clutter
  • High capacity storage for organizing all your music, videos, photos, and other files in one place
  • Powered by Toshiba 7200 RPM drive to help deliver a reliable and responsive performance
  • Built in security lock slot to help keep your drive safe from theft
  • Toshiba 2 year limited

Best for Storage Space

For photographers, storage space is a crucial factor in choosing an external hard drive. Beginners may be able to fair with smaller drives. However, professionals working with bulky RAW files will need a lot of room for extensive archives. The following should be able to accommodate even the most prolific picture-takers.

1. Portable: Seagate Backup Plus

Seagate Backup Plus External Hard Drive

Seagate is one of the most trusted names in the data storage industry, and it does not disappoint with its Backup Plus portable hard drive

Unlike most portable external hard drives, which generally cap out at about 4TB, the Seagate can hold up to 5TB at any given time. It’s no bulkier or slower than other similar hard drives, but it’s a clear cut winner because of its storage capacity. What’s more, springing for extra space doesn’t cost much. According to Amazon, that extra terabyte costs just 15 dollars.

Aside from its spaciousness, this external hard drive is also quite simple to use. Once the drive is plugged in, all you need to do is drag-and-drop your desired files into place! The drive automatically backs up the rest, regardless of whether you’re running a Mac or Windows operating system.

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Seagate Backup Plus Portable 4TB External Hard Drive HDD – Black USB 3.0 for PC...
  • Store and access 4TB of photos and files with Seagate backup Plus portable, an on-the-go USB drive for Mac and Windows
  • The perfect compliment to personal aesthetic, This portable external hard Drive features a minimalist brushed metal enclosure
  • Great as a laptop hard drive or PC Hard drive, simply Plug in via USB 3.0 to back up with a single click or schedule...
  • Edit, manage, and share photos with a One-year complimentary subscription to mylio create and a Two-Month membership to Adobe...
  • Enjoy long-term peace of mind with the included two-year limited warranty and two-yr Rescue Data Recovery Services

2. Desktop: WD My Book Duo

WD My Book Duo

It really doesn’t get much better than WD’s MyBook Duo when it comes to storage space. The drive comes at a steep cost but it can host up to 20 TB of information. 

For those with extensive archives to manage, that equates to storage for about 3.5 million images. Even the most prolific photographers will likely struggle to fill the entire drive. Of course, if you feel that 20TB is a bit excessive, you can save a few dollars and downsize to the 12TB or 16TB Duo models.

Best of all, the MyBook Duo avoids many of the hangups that crop up when storing so much information. For instance, it can read and write files at speeds of up to 360MB/s.

WD 8TB My Book Duo Desktop RAID External Hard Drive, USB 3.1 - WDBFBE0080JBK-NESN
  • Massive capacity storage with auto and system backup
  • RAID-0 ready out of the box
  • RAID optimized WD Red drives
  • USB 3.1 Gen 1-ready, USB 3.0 compatibility
  • 3-year manufacturer's limited warranty

Best on a Budget

For obvious reasons, a price tag can make or break a deal. In the case of external hard drives, there’s a sliding scale on pricing, ranging from $50 to well over $1000. To get something worthwhile, you don’t have to break the bank. These two drives do an excellent job balancing quality and performance whilst still being low cost.

1. Portable: WD My Passport

WD My Passport

The WD My Passport is without a doubt one of the best all-round options available, whether you’re working with a tight budget or not. Though the price fluctuates a bit depending on color and storage size, you can easily pick up a 4TB model for under $100 via Amazon.

Just because the WD Passport comes at an affordable price doesn’t mean that it skimps in other areas. The outer casing is shock-tolerant and durable enough to withstand bumps and bruises. Installed within, is encrypted security software and automatic backup capabilities. 

It is worth noting that by default, this external hard drive is made for Windows OS but can easily be reformatted for Mac OS users. If you’re looking for a versatile option that won’t break the bank, the WD My Passport could be just what you’re looking for.

WD 1TB Black My Passport Portable External Hard Drive - USB 3.0 - WDBYNN0010BBK-WESN
  • Auto backup with Included WD Backup Software
  • Password Protection with hardware encryption
  • Trusted drive built with WD reliability
  • USB 3.0 port; USB 2.0 compatible; System Compatibility: Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7; Requires reformatting for Mac OS...
  • 3 year manufacturer's Limited Warranty

2. Desktop: Seagate STEL8000100 Backup Plus Hub 8TB External Desktop Hard Drive Storage

Seagate backup plus hub external hard drive

No matter how you put it, 10TB for under $200 is a deal that can’t be beaten. And that’s exactly what you’ll get with the Seagate Backup Plus.

This external hard drive for photographers is the epitome of versatility, both internally and externally.

On the outside of the device are two USB ports which can be used to connect and charge other devices while the hard drive is in use. And on the inside, you get compatibility with both Mac and Windows OS without the need to reformat. The drive is also capable of combining local, mobile, cloud, and social media backups with ease.

The mobile Backup app even allows users to transfer data from their smartphones directly to the drive. Seagate secures ALL of your data – not just the files living on your computer – for no extra cost. Talk about a bargain! 

Seagate STEL8000100 Backup Plus Hub 8TB External Desktop Hard Drive Storage
  • Store and access content for years with up to 14TB in a USB drive
  • A great external hard drive for Mac and Windows, this hub can charge mobile devices and transfer files from USB cameras and...
  • Use seamlessly between Windows and Mac by installing the provided NTFS driver for Mac
  • Complimentary four-month membership to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan’s photo and video editing apps (Must be...
  • Enjoy long-term peace of mind with the included two-year limited warranty and two-yr Rescue Data Recovery Services

Best for Low Sound

Sure, it may seem a bit superficial. But some buyers take the sound a hard drive makes into serious consideration when making a purchase.

When in use, it’s not uncommon for moving parts to vibrate, spin, and click at volumes ranging from hardly audible to quite loud. If you can’t afford the distraction of a noisy piece of equipment, here are a few options you should look into.

1. Portable: Silicon Power 1TB 3D NAND

Silicon Power 1TB 3D NAND TLC Rugged Portable External SSD USB 3.1 Gen 2 (USB3.2)...

For a quiet external hard drive, the Silicon Power 1TB 3D NAND is a no-brainer. This slim, stylish hard drive is virtually silent. 

As a solid-state drive, the Silicon Power 1TB 3D NAND lacks any moving parts. This means that when the drive is activated, there aren’t any interior parts revved into action. Silence isn’t the SSD’s only advantage, though – in general, they also work faster. The Silicon Power 1TB 3D NAND is no exception, capable of reading at 520MB/s and writing at 420MB/s. 

There’s plenty of great SSD drives out there, but the Silicon Power stood out despite sporting a slightly more expensive price tag.

The drive’s military-grade construction more than makes up for the cost. The housing is temperature and impact-resistant. It is worth noting that, despite its ultra-slim design, this drive is no lightweight.

Silicon Power 1TB 3D NAND TLC Rugged Portable External SSD USB 3.1 Gen 2 (USB3.2)...
  • Superfast Read/Write speeds of up to 520 MB/s and 420 MB/s.
  • Includes USB Type C to C and USB Type C to A cables
  • Lightweight and durable aluminum shockproof design for traveling light and safely
  • PS4 / XBOX COMPATIBLE: Ideal for gaming enthusiasts Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS4 Pro and PS4 Slim (PS4 System Software...
  • 3-year warranty. *Must Read* LARGE FILE (4GB) TRANSFER - B75 Pro is Pre-formatted as FAT32, you could use it directly on Mac...

2. Desktop: Fantom Drives G-Force3

Fantom Drives Desktop External Hard Drive for Photographers

Wrapped in a sleek aluminum casing, the FantomG-Force3 is more than a pretty package. In fact, its design is carefully engineered to create a virtually silent user experience. 

The culprit behind the whirring, spinning, and humming in most hard drives is the internal fan. Usually, it plays a crucial roll in preventing the system from overheating. However, the aluminum build of the Fantom works as a natural heat sink. This completely eliminates the need for noisy, sometimes faulty fans. 

Don’t be fooled by the Fantom’s quiet demeanor. This powerhouse can accomplish massive tasks with relative speed and ease. For these reasons, it’s also a favorite among audio and video professionals who consistently work with large files. 

Fantom Drives Gforce3 Pro 4TB 7200 RPM USB 3.0 Aluminum External Hard Drive - Great...
  • Easy and simple to use. Plug and play out of the box. Simply plug in the power adapter and USB cable
  • Fast file transfers with SuperSpeed USB 3.0. Backwards compatible with USB 2.0. and operating system Mac OS X 10.5 or...
  • 7200 RPM for fast performance. Supports Mac OS X 10.6 or later, Windows 7 or later.
  • Durable and stylish aluminum case provides great fanless cooling for hard drives. Comes with 1 Year Manufacturer Warranty.
  • Great for your home network, MAC, PC, PS4 (PlayStation 4) with Patch 4.5+, and Xbox.

Best for Design

Looks aren’t everything, but they certainly don’t take away from a product’s appeal. External hard drives often aren’t the most glamorous accessories out there, but there are a few exceptions. These following drives aren’t just aesthetically stunning – they utilize innovative designs to function as efficiently as possible.

1. Portable: Kexin SSD Drive

Kexin SSD

At just a quarter of an inch thick and 3 inches in length, the Kexin SSD drive is small enough to fit in your pocket or palm. Nevertheless, it’s a drive that’s not to be underestimated

Despite weighing just under 1.5 ounces, this Kexin SSD drive is anything but fragile thanks to its solid aluminum build.

The design of this drive eliminates internal moving parts, minimizing the chances of something coming loose inside the device.

Available in vibrant shades of blue and red, this little drive can even add a little flair to your collection of accessories

Though it can’t hold as much as the other drives mentioned in today’s article, it’s a great option for photographers on the go with not much space to spare. And since a 250GB drive costs under $50, it’s a fairly inexpensive backup to keep in a bag in case of emergency.

KEXIN X2 Mini 250GB External SSD USB 3.1 500MB/s Read & Write Ultra-Slim USB-C Mobile...
  • ▲Read and write speed can reach up to 500MB/s, which enables you to fast back up massive data to the SSD or read data from...
  • ▲The SSD is very mini and lightweight, smaller than your palm, and easy to carry around with you.
  • ▲The SSD features ultra-fast, stable and secure data transfer, waterproof, shockproof, wear resistant; metal-made design...
  • ▲The external SSD is compatible with Windows, Mac OS and Android systems, and supports all kinds of PC with USB port, and...
  • ▲ Including1 * 250GB Mini SSD, 1 * Type-C to Type-C Data Cable, 1* Type-A to Type-C Data Cable and 24-Month Warranty.

2. Desktop: LaCie Porsche Design

LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

Your external hard drive doesn’t have to be just another bulky object cluttering up your desk. The attractive and timeless LaCie Porsche Design Drive offers stellar performance and smart design.

On the outside of the Porsche, there’s little more than a long, striking LED light indicating whether the device is connected. An aluminum case gives it a clean, professional look while simultaneously dissipating heat. This appearance immediately communicates to users that the drive delivers a painless, straightforward experience.

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But it’s not just LaCie’s outward design that’s been taken into consideration. An efficient machine, the drive is built to work quickly and intuitively. One of the biggest product highlights is the drive’s automatic Eco mode, which lowers the device’s power consumption by 77% without severely impacting performance. 

LaCie Porsche Design 6TB STFE6000401 USB 3.1 Type-C Desktop Hard Drive W/Lexar 64GB...
  • LaCie Porsche Design 6TB TYPE-C Desktop Hard Drive Comes with Manufacturer Warranty and Manufacturer Supplied Accessories....
  • Features reversible USB-C connectivity as well as compatibility with USB 3.0 ports
  • Power your notebook and access the drive all through the USB-C cable
  • Sturdy, all aluminum enclosure while still lightweight and ultra-portable
  • Includes 2-month complimentary membership to Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan.

External Hard Drives for Photographers: Closing Thoughts

No matter what it is you’re looking for, there’s a hard drive out there capable of sorting through and backing up your images. When you’ve found the product that best suits you, check out this video featuring pro photographer Mark Galer. It’s full of advice on optimizing workflow and setting up an archive of your own so that you can make the most of your drive’s space!


  • Meghan is an artist and writer based out of Boston, MA. With an interest in everything from instant film to experimental videography, her work has been featured internationally in a variety of photographic exhibitions and publications. As a regular contributor, she uses her broad background in fine art and varied professional experiences to inform her articles.

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