Today’s Question: I have been following you for a number of years and fully agree with your statement about having only one Lightroom catalog. But your statement about a “single storage device” is now confusing to me. Are you saying to use only one drive? This would entail using a 20TB hard drive for me! I have 7 LaCie externals and to put all photos on a single storage device does not make sense if it fails. I also backup regularly to these drives.
Tim’s Quick Answer: In terms of streamlining a photographer’s overall workflow, I do think that whenever possible it is best to store all master photos on a single storage device. Just to be clear, however, that is not to suggest that you shouldn’t also have at least one (and ideally more than one) complete backup of all of your photos on a separate storage device.
More Detail: As outlined in a previous Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter (from January 2, 2019), I highly recommend using a single Lightroom catalog to manage all of your photos. This enables you to simply launch Lightroom with your single catalog anytime you’re looking for a photo, without the added step of needing to know which of multiple catalogs the photo might be contained in.
Similarly, I recommend using a single storage device for storing all of the master copies of your photos. In other words, I recommend not spreading your master photos across multiple storage devices. I fully realize that for many photographers their storage capacity exceeds what a single hard drive is capable of. In fact, I myself have run into this issue.
I prefer to use bus-powered hard drives, and I also prefer ruggedized drives since I spend so much time traveling. The drives I’m currently using have a capacity of four terabytes. My total photo library is about six terabytes. So I’ve had to spread my photos across two hard drives.
Of course, there are other solutions that provide more storage in a single device, including RAID devices that make multiple hard drives in a single case appear as a single hard drive to the computer’s operating system. These, however, are not exactly portable, so they don’t work well for me.
And, of course, when I make reference to having photos on a single drive, that is only referring to the master copy of photos, not backup copies. I highly recommend always maintaining at least one (and ideally two or more) full backups of all of your photos and other important data. Those backup copies should also ideally be stored in a location separate from the master drives you’re regularly using.