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How to Move Photos Library to External Hard Drive (Simple Step-By-Step)

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Related course: Photography for Beginners

Knowing how to move photos library to external hard drive is important for your editing flow. It saves valuable desktop space and scratch disk memory on your computer.

On top of this, using an external hard drive provides other benefits. Let’s look at what they are and how to move your photos library below.

Laptop on a bed with an image of a building on the screen

Common Questions

Why Would I Move My Photos Library?

Photos is a viewing program used by Microsoft Windows that lets you see your digital images. It can’t open every file type, such as the numerous Raw file formats, but it opens JPEGs easily.

When you upload images to your PC, Microsoft Windows creates a Library that is accessible through Photos. This photos library contains your images under various folders. The folders get automatically named under the months that you took the photos.

Moving your photos library to an external drive has many benefits. The main advantage is that you save space from your desktop. Desktop memory is vital as it allows you to store and use programs.

Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, among other editing software programs, use ‘scratch disks’. This feature gives the program memory to operate freely. Having more space means you can edit faster without buffering.

On top of that, moving your photos library to an external hard drive allows you to take your pictures with you. Let’s say you export your photos library from your desktop PC to an external portable hard drive. You can plug the external drive into a laptop for on-the-road editing.

Copying your photos library to an external drive gives you security. If the photos on your computer become corrupt, damaged, or deleted, you have a backup.

How Do I Transfer Photos From Mac to External Hard Drive?

To transfer your photos library from an Apple Mac to an external drive, you first need to locate the photos or a folder you wish to move. You can right-click and copy, then paste in the new location. Dragging and dropping will also copy the images or folder.

For the step-by-step process, look below.

How Do I Transfer Photos From iCloud to External Hard Drive?

If you have already copied your iPhotos or  Photos Library to an external hard drive, it is easy to incorporate the iCloud into the same process.

Open iPhotos on your Mac, and then head to Preferences. Click on the iCloud tab at the top, and then choose Download Originals to this Mac.

Downloading originals will mean your iCloud images will store themselves on your external storage device.

If you do this step before moving the folder to your external drive, the iCloud images will go to your Apple Mac.

Photographs on a laptop screen

How Do I Move Photos Library to an External Hard Drive? Step-By-Step Guide (Windows)

First of all, you need an external hard drive. We have a very concise article on what hard drives are and what you should take into consideration. We recommend hard drives with over 1TB of space, and with a 7,200 RPM.

The size, specs, and type of your hard drive will depend on your workflow. If you travel and shoot/edit, then a portable hard drive might be the best system to use.

If instead, you work from your powerhouse desktop machine, then an external extension harddrive might suit you best. If you are here to backup your images, there are hard drives specifically for that reason too.

This external hard drive needs formatting for the machine(s) you wish to use. For PCs, the NTFS is what windows use by default.

You can’t move your image folder if you don’t know where it is. Unless you are a dab hand at everything computer related, you’ll need some help.

One way to find your Photos library is to use the Photos program to show you. Open the program, and it will first open on the Collections tab.

Screenshot of collections tab

To locate where your photos are stored, go to the Folders tab.

Screenshot of folders tab

This tab will tell you where your photos are in the form of a path on your computer. In my case, C:\Users\Craig\Pictures.

Screenshot of folders tab showing file location

By clicking on the Pictures area, it will take you to all the folders where your photos are stored. From there, you can find individual images in those folders.

Screenshot of pictures area

Next, locate the files on your computer. Click on any folder and navigate to the Pictures area.

Screenshot showing folders in pictures tab

Locate the folders or files you want to copy or move.

Folder selected in blue

If you are looking to back up your photos, then you want to Copy the folder. Once copied, move to the hard drive and then paste the folder where you want it to sit.

Screenshot of how to copy a folder Paste icon selected to paste folder in new location

The other way is to drag and drop the folder into the new hard drive.

Screenshot showing how to drag and drop folder onto the hard drive

From here, you can delete the original folder to save space on your computer. To act as a backup, keep the photos in both locations.

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