Using External Hard Drives for Tethered Photography

Posted by: on Jan 18, 2011 | 2 Comments

In many respects tethered photography makes life as a photographer simpler and smoother.  As with most things, being prepared helps ensure the best results.

When shooting directly into the camera all image files are stored on a CF or SD memory card.  When the shoot finishes, files are uploaded via a card reader to the computer and images are ready to be processed.  That is pretty much the extent of it and there is little flexibility.

Now consider tethered shooting.  As images are shot, files are instantly transferred and written to the hard drive of the computer connected to the camera.  Some cameras allow writing simultaneously to the CF/SD card, however many do not offer this option.  When the photo shoot wraps, all image files are now stored on the computer’s hard-drive.  Although it’s nice not to have to worry about misplacing or losing a small CF/SD card, this too poses some potential risks and inconveniences.

External Hard Drives Offer Solutions

Image Portability
Many photographers shoot tethered to a laptop because it is convenient for travel and easy to set-up.  However, back at the studio, processing and color correcting on a laptop may not be ideal.  Most shooters prefer working on a large calibrated monitor to get the increased detail needed to process images to the highest standards.  External drives offer instant portability of image files.  When shooting to an external drive, the files can be instantly accessed by connecting the drive to a desktop.  Simply plug into any machine for easy access.

Limited Computer Hard Drive Space This may or may not be an issue currently but at some point all hard drives fill up.  Consider all the images, music and media files we put on our machines.  RAW files seem to get larger and larger and drives fill up fast.

Purchasing a laptop computer with enormous hard drive capacity is very expensive.  External drives are cheap.  Nothing will send a photographer into a panic faster than starting a photo shoot, an art director over the shoulder, and the “Low Disk Space” warning appears.  A little preparation with an external hard drive eliminates this crisis from ever becoming a reality.

Real Time Back-Up This one is obvious.  We all back up (at least we should).  We have all heard the saying – It is not a question of if your hard drive fails but when.  Luckily the solution is easy. Save files to an internal hard drive and then establish a real time back-up system using an external drive.  There is nothing worse than losing irreplaceable images and wasting time and money.  A little preparation can ensure this doesn’t happen?

Aero XDC part of Tether Table Aero System

There are many additional reasons to use external drives – establishing a RAID, platform portability, the ability to hand a drive off to a colleague for immediate processing as you continue shooting to a new drive, transfer speeds – and more.  The benefits are countless and far outweigh the alternatives.  Now it’s only a matter of choosing the right drive and incorporating the drive into your tethering set-up.

What do you find most beneficial about having external hard drives available during a tethered photo shoot?


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2 thoughts on “Using External Hard Drives for Tethered Photography”

  1. Hi Seth!

    I’d just like to know if there is a preferable brand of External HDD when it comes to tethering from a laptop directly into an external drive? I’m thinking of purchasing a Transcend Storejet 25M3 1TB External HDD because of good reviews as well as the 3 layered shock protection. But it doesn’t transfer files as fast as other HDDs. Does this transfer rate affect the speed at which I should shoot?


  2. Hi Sanda – The G-Tech are a popular brand for photographers but not so much for their speed but rather their compact and durable size. If the Transcend meets your needs than it should work really well. Transfer rate is plenty adequate with the Transcend to exceed most camera transfer specs. Using that drive, the only thing that will slow your shooting down is the camera’s buffer and size.

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