Best External Hard Drive for Storing Photos When You Have a Mac

By Paul Gregory / September 9, 2018
Best External Hard Drive For Storing Photos

When you are a normal everyday Mac user that just loves taking photographs, you need a place to put all those photos when you don't need them on your iPhone or iPad or digital camera or even up in the cloud.

An external hard drive to store your photos on is an ideal solution.

And after spending hours of research looking closely at over 20 models of external hard drives I can recommend the WD My Passport for Mac as the winner of the best external hard drive for storing photos when you have a Mac.

Overall Winner of Best Hard Drive for Storing Photos on a Mac

​WD My Passport For Mac
WD My Passport Black

The convenience of a HFS+ formatted drive so that you can plug this hard drive straight into your Mac without the need to format first. Smooth looks on one half of the outer casing and a molded diagonal pattern on the other. Supplied with a USB-C cable ready for connection the newer Macs and of course proven reliability with users, makes the WD My Passport for Mac the overall winner as the best external hard drive for storing photos for your Mac.

​​Other Winners

For When you are on a Budget

​WD Elements
WD Elements Box

Because when you are on a budget you want a basic external hard drive that is reliable and has a great reputation. A drive that offers you a good range of storage capacity options for your pictures and for the money.

The WD Elements portable external hard drive delivers all this. The drive is sold as NTFS formatted but that is easily changed on your Mac. A fraction more work for a great bargain price.

Runner up for When You Are On a Budget: Toshiba Canvio Basics

The latest iteration (Feb 2018) of the Canvio Basics although not as proven in the field is also a good basic drive, which offers good value for money. Not as performant as the WD Elements but should do your photos proud. Is also sold as NTFS preformatted and will need formatting to HFS+ to run on your Mac. (The Toshiba's draw quite a bit of power from the USB 2.0 port in compatibility mode so I wouldn't suggest it be used on an older USB 2.0 only Mac except on a independently powered USB hub).

For When You Have A Bit More to Spend

​WD My Passport for Mac

The WD My Passport for Mac is also the overall winner for best drive for storing photos. It is more expensive than a basic drive and is for when you have a slightly larger budget.

For When you want a Fast Drive

​Samsung T5
Samsung T5 Blue

​You have plenty to spend and you want an external drive that is as fast as your internal SSD. You like the idea of an electronic drive without the moving parts that cause drive failures on the mechanical hard drives.  When you have lots of large digital pictures and you want to be able to access them fast then a Solid State drive is for you and the Samsung T5 looks good, works better and is oh so fast.

Has USB-C connections for easy connections to the latest (2015 and later) Macbooks.

As with most SSD's the more capacity you want the more you have to pay, but if you want the best ...

For When You Want a Rugged Drive

​Silicon Power A85M
Silicon Power A85M

​​When you want the assurance of a drive that is ruggedized, drop tested, water and dust proof. Because the environment you will be using it in isn't ideal for mechanical drives, then the Silicon Power A85M has you covered. It is HFS+ preformatted, designed for use on a Mac, so easy to plug in and play. This drive has the widest number of storage capacities available from 1TB up to a 5TB drive.

Feature Comparison Table





My Passport

for Mac






​Supplied Format





​USB Interface











Choosing an External Drive to Store Your Photos On

​It is kind of obvious to say that your budget, and the amount of snapshots you have to store will come into your decision on which external drive to buy.

But what else should you consider.

1. Convenience, as in size, weight and default format.  To be fair most of the portable external drives are within ounces and tenths of an inch of each other so there is really not much to worry about there.

You may be concerned if the default format the drive is supplied in is NTFS

and you feel you are not technical enough to change.

Sure you can go for a HFS+ formatted drive and plug straight into your Mac. But reformatting a drive is quick and easy to do with a little know how and the will to do.

An ExFAT formatted drive can be plugged in and is understood by a Mac and a Windows PC but doesn't support Time Machine backups without reformatting.

2. Most portable external hard drives are bus powered.

This means that the power for the drive comes from your Mac. And it means that you have no need to worry about carrying an external power supply. Assuming your Mac is able to power the drive .. more on that later.

3. It is worth knowing what the ports are you have on your Mac computer to physically connect your external drive into.

Do you have an older Mac with a USB 2.0 port, or do you have USB 3.0, or USB 3.1/USB-C. The ports are all backwards compatible which means you can put a USB 3.1 drive on a USB 3.0 Mac.

The Mac will use the drive at the speed it can support, you'll just need to check you have an adaptor or cable suitable. 

This because the physical port interface changed between USB 2.0/3.0 and 3.1. Adaptor cables are easily sourced on Amazon.

4. One thing you may not have thought about is the file format your picture collection is saved in.

With physical photos without reasonable care being taken on their storage you expect the colors to fade over time, and the photo paper to get dirty.

Your digital photos also need consideration over time. Are they on an old device?

Is the file format they are saved in getting old? Remember to move forward with the latest appliances and keep to the popular file formats so that you can always access your photos.

External drives versus Cloud Services for Storing your Photos?

​As an everyday user with a passion for taking snapshots, or maybe you just love to record your memories and daily events with your iPhone or iPad, you'll quickly find that you have used up the 5GB of space on your free iCloud account.

Unless you are prepared to pay for extra space on a monthly basis you will then need to decide what to keep and what to delete?

What if you feel that your photos are too sensitive to have them stored in the cloud? Or what if they are and you'd prefer not to have them out there in the cloud where they could be hacked?

Not to mention that cloud services can and have failed in the past - fires, earthquakes, other disasters affect the large service providers as much as they can affect you as an individual.

Those digital services may decide to close, get taken over by another company and you may then need to find a home for your photos super quick.

So you have decided to pay for cloud storage for your photos.

Should you find your circumstances change in the future and you can no longer afford to pay for the service then when your account closes you had better have your photos moved or say goodbye to them.

There is no doubt cloud services are useful as one place to have your photo collection, and as part of your strategy for keeping copies of your photos in multiple places. But they shouldn't be the only place you have your photos and that is where having an external drive for storing your photographs comes in.

Storing Photos on Your Mac

​Photos are typically taken on your iPhone as it is just there with you.

Personally I often take photos on my iPad or digital camera.

Saving them to your Mac is going to quickly eat up the space on your internal drives particularly when the newest Macs come with SSD's and though they are fast they are expensive. Unless you have the funds to pay for a Mac with the largest SSD inside you could quickly find yourself running out of space if you have a lot of photos.

Strategies for Moving your Photos Onto an External Hard Drive

Drag and Drop

​Yes the most basic of all strategies.

Have your external drive connected to your Mac, plug in your iPhone, iPad or digital camera, using your lightening cable or camera's USB cable.

Preview allows you to view your photos on your iPhone, IPad or digital camera, select them all or just the ones you want and choose your external drive as the destination.

Create folder names dedicated to particular events and you have a basic directory system that allows you to find your photos, particularly when the name given to the photos by your iPhone, iPad or digital camera is indecipherable.

Creating a good directory structure is crucial when it comes to searching through and finding that one photo you want to look at.

Import them using Photos (previously iPhoto)

​Using the Photos app on your Mac, allows you to create events and store and access your photos that way. Though again if you have a large photographic collection you could find it eating up your Mac's internal disks super quick.

Yes you can move the Photo's library to an external hard drive. You can also create a new Photos app library and have that on your external hard drive and it's easier than you think to do.

To Move the Photos Library

​The default location is Username, > Pictures > Photo Library

You can find the library by using a finder window and search your Mac for the Pictures folder, it'll be within that.

You can simply copy and paste the library to the external hard drive.

You can then just click twice on your photos library on the external drive to open it with Photos.

Note : You can use the same procedure to move your iPhotos library.

You can also take a look at this article from Apple.

Pointing the Photos App to your External Drive

Again easily done,

Start up the Photos application while holding down the option key a window will open.

Photos Choose Library Window

​and it'll give you the option to choose the library on the external drive that stores your photos and open that,

or to create a new Photos Library on your external drive should you want to do that too.

Saving Your Photos on an External Drive

​Or indeed spread across several external drives, is not a backup strategy if you have only one copy of your photos.  You should always have additional copies of your photos in multiple places and on additional external hard drives.

You can use Time Machine to backup your photos just as you can to backup one external to a second external hard drive. Click​ to find my article on the site telling you how.

Don't use the same drive you are storing your pictures on as your Time Machine backup.

Or you can clone the external drive with your photos on to another external drive. Again, I have an article telling you how. ​

Individual Product Reviews

When you are on a Budget

WD Elements Portable External Hard Drive

WD Elements Pros

  • Competitively priced per hard drive capacity
  • A nice reliable basic drive with many happy users

WD Elements Cons

  • Will need a USB-C adaptor to connect to newer Macs with Thunderbolt ports
  • Supplied USB cable is short and you may want a longer cable

​WD Elements Verdict

​When your budget is limited (you may well consider this external hard drive even if it's not) and you are looking for a basic drive or several of these to store your photos on you won't go far wrong with this best seller the WD Elements Portable drive. Will need reformatting to connect to Mac though this is easily done and will only take a few minutes to do.

This drive is so well priced it's worth getting several for your photographs and to act as backup drives. Although it has the shortest warranty period of the drives chosen at 2 years.

WD Elements At a Glance High Level Features and Benefits

  • ​Default drive format: NTFS
  • Drive Interface: USB 3.0
  • Capacities : 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB
  • Size: 1TB and 2TB  - 4.35 in by 3.2 in by 0.6 in, 3TB and 4TB - 4.4 in by 3.2 in by 0.82 in
  • Weight: 1TB and 2TB 4.64 oz, 3TB and 4TB - 8.32 oz
  • Warranty: 2 Years

WD Elements YouTube Video

Would you like to see the WD Elements Portable? Why not have a look at this three minutes forty seven second YouTube video I've found.

WD Elements 2TB USB 3.0 Hard Disk

Video Credit: AndroRat

When You Have a Bit More to Spend

WD My Passport For Mac

WD My Passport Pros

  • Attractive external hard drive
  • Longer warranty compared to the WD Elements with 3 years
  • A faster drive than the WD Elements Portable - which is great for photos
  • comes preformatted in HFS+ so plugs right into High Sierra, Sierra or El Capitan Mac operating systems

WD My Passport Cons

  • Want the snazzy colors, blue, red, yellow, orange, white? then you will have to choose the non 'for Mac' version and format the external drive to use on a Mac

WD My Passport Verdict

​You have a bit more to spend and would prefer not to format the external hard drive to put on your Mac then a HFS+ preformatted drive is what you have here. Supplied and sold with a USB-C cable and a separate USB-A compatible cable means that you can plug this drive into an newer Mac with Thunderbolt ports or an older Mac with the USB type A ports. The WD My Passport drives are best selling in the midrange portable drive space.

WD My Passport At a Glance Features and Benefits

  • ​Default drive format: HFS+
  • Drive Interface: USB 3.0
  • Capacities : 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB
  • Size: 1TB - 4.33 in by 3.21 in by 0.64 in, 2TB, 3TB and 4TB - 4.33 in by 3.21 in by 0.85 in
  • Weight: 1TB -  5.92 oz
  • 2TB, 3TB and 4TB - 8.64 oz
  • Warranty: 3 Years

WD My Passport  for Mac YouTube Video

I hope you enjoy this one minute three second video I found. A quick overview of the WD My Passport for Mac drive.

My Passport for Mac Official Product Overview

Video Credit: WD

Would you like to see a comparison on using either drive on a Mac? A faceoff between the WD Elements drive and the WD My Passport, then check out my comparison document​.

When you want a Fast Drive to Store Your Photographs on

​Samsung T5 Portable SSD

Samsung T5 Pros

  • Electronic data storage means this drive is ultra quiet when working.
  • More resistant to bumps and shakes than mechanical drives
  • Beautiful clean sleek look
  • Preformatted in ExFAT means that you can connect this drive to Mac or a Windows PC

Samsung T5 Cons

  • Typical for SSD's (Solid State Drives) the price per GB is high compared to mechanical drives
  • The largest available size is 2TB
  • Preformatted in ExFAT means that you'll need to reformat to HFS+ to use with Time Machine
  • Some problems experienced with Samsung's Mac software provided on the drive

Samsung T5 Verdict

​When you have a generous budget with some bucks to spend and want good and you want fast then this solid state drive gives you both for your picture collection.

Similar to the WD My Passport for Mac this drive comes with two cables, a USB-C and USB type A cable to allow you to connect to Macs with USB 3.0 and older ports. Sized to be ultra portable - it is the smallest and lightest of the drives featured.

The Aluminum casing emphasizes this high end drive. With finishes in blue and black - Blue for the 250GB and 500GB versions, black for the 1TB and 2TB capacity drives. Though this drive is not a rugged drive Samsung has tested it to take up to a maximum six and a half foot drop, which is impressive for a non rugged drive.

Samsung T5 At a Glance Features and Benefits

  • ​Default drive format: ExFAT
  • Drive Interface: USB 3.1
  • Capacities : 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
  • Size: 3 in by 2.3 in by 0.4 in
  • Weight: 1.6 oz
  • Warranty: 3 Years

Samsung T5 YouTube Video

I found a slick forty seven seconds video on YouTube for you. A fly by view of the Samsung.

Introducing the Samsung Portable SSD T5

Video Credit: Samsung

When you Want a Rugged Drive to Store your Photos On

​Silicon Power A85M

Silicon Power A85M Pros

  • Meets IP68 dustproof and waterproof standard. Can be under water for an hour in nearly five feet of water.
  • And can stand up to 1102 pounds of weight on it.

Silicon Power A85M Cons

  • The USB-C cable supplied is designed to be easily stored with the drive. This means for the cable to be curled by the side of the drive it has to be a short cable
  • Older Macs with USB 2.0 interface? You will need an adaptor to go from the USB-C cable to type A.
  • Plus with an older Mac with USB 2.0 ports it is best to consider using on a powered USB 3 hub

Silicon Power A85M Verdict

A great rugged drive which ticks a lot of the boxes for a ruggedized drive. Formatted in HFS+ for easy connection to a Mac. Means you can plug straight in, use and setup for Time Machine without reformatting.

In smart silver Aluminum outer, rubber inner cover on the disk allowing the dustproof and waterproof features. On top of all that a suspension system allowing the external hard drive to meet the 26 on each face, edge and corner 4ft drop standard.

The extra ruggedization means this drive is the largest and heaviest of the drives reviewed.

The Silicon Power A85M comes with a USB-C type cable which is short. I would suggest you consider buying a longer cable if you want to use this drive any distance from your Mac.  

If you want to use this drive on an older Mac with a type A interface you will need an adaptor cable and be aware this drive takes quite a bit of power. Your Mac and its older USB 2.0 ports may just not have the power to drive this beast and you may need to use a powered USB 3.0 hub.

Silicon Power A85M At a Glance Features and Benefits

  • ​Default drive format: HFS+
  • Drive Interface: USB 3.1
  • Capacities : 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB, 5TB
  • Size: -  5.2 in  x 3.63 in x 1.01 in
  • Weight: 10.51 oz  to 12.8 oz depending on drive capacity
  • Warranty: 3 Years

Silicon Power A85M YouTube Video

Warning this video is in German, put it on mute and just watch what they do to this external hard drive for two minutes thirty two seconds. It is a blast.

SP A85 Torture Test - it's a Beast!

Video Credit: Silicon Power

Last Words

Let me end by thanking you for reading this far in my article 'Best External Hard Drive for Storing Photos When You Have a Mac'. I hope I have given you some of the best options for finding the right kind of external drive for your Mac and for securing those important moments that we all have.

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