Where do I store my iPhone photos externally?

With high-resolution cameras built into modern iPhones, it’s easy to quickly fill up your device’s internal storage with photos and videos. Offloading these files to external storage can free up significant space on your iPhone. There are several options for moving your photo library outside of your iPhone storage:

Cloud storage services like iCloud, Google Photos, and Dropbox allow you to upload your photos to online servers. The photos are then accessible from all your devices while not taking up internal iPhone storage. Cloud storage offers anywhere from 5GB to unlimited photo storage depending on the provider and subscription plan.

External hard drives, either directly connected to your iPhone using adapters or accessed from a computer, provide local storage and backup for your photo library. Portable hard drives are affordable and offer hundreds of gigabytes to terabytes of capacity. Photos can be manually transferred to the drive for backup and storage outside of the iPhone.

Network attached storage (NAS) devices allow you to access and store photos over a home WiFi network. NAS boxes offer robust storage and backup solutions, allowing all devices on a network to wirelessly access and upload photos to the NAS. This keeps photos off local device storage while making them available on the local network.

Cloud Storage

Cloud storage services like iCloud, Google Photos, and Dropbox allow you to store your iPhone photos and videos remotely online. The main benefits of using cloud storage are accessibility, automatic syncing and backups, and collaboration features. You can access your media from any device by logging into your account. Cloud services will automatically upload new photos and videos from your devices and keep everything in sync. Many also allow sharing albums and collaborating on projects with others. On the downside, you need an internet connection to view your media. There are also monthly storage limits unless you pay for expanded capacity.

iCloud is ideal for seamlessly managing photos across Apple devices like iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Google Photos offers unlimited free storage for photos up to 16MP and videos up to 1080p. Dropbox Plus provides 2TB of storage for around $10/month. For iPhone users who want automated backups and easy access from different devices, cloud storage is an excellent solution for managing and storing photos externally.

External Hard Drives

External hard drives provide a convenient way to store photos and other files externally from your iPhone. Portable external storage comes in two main forms – traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs).

HDDs have moving parts inside and SSDs are completely electronic with no moving parts. SSDs are faster, more reliable, and less prone to damage from drops or shocks. However, HDDs have larger capacities for less money.

A portable external drive lets you easily store your photo library and other large files like videos when your iPhone’s internal storage fills up. You can keep years of photos and memories stored safely on an external drive. When your iPhone is full, you can simply plug in the external drive and offload your photos and videos to free up space.

The main downsides of external drives are their physical size and need to be plugged in for access. Make sure to get a drive with enough capacity for your needs. Also consider wireless external drives or cloud storage if you want to access your photos without cables.

Networked Storage

Networked storage devices like NAS (network-attached storage) allow you to access and back up files from anywhere. A NAS is essentially an external hard drive that connects to your network, so it can be accessed wirelessly by multiple devices. This makes it convenient for families or small businesses to store and share files.

A key advantage of NAS devices is that they can operate independently, working like a personal cloud storage device. Many NAS systems run 24/7 and allow automatic file backups, versioning, and RAID configurations for redundancy. Compared to a single external hard drive, a NAS provides more flexibility, accessibility and reliability for storage. However, NAS can have higher upfront costs for the hardware and be more complex to set up.

For iPhone photo backups specifically, a NAS can be useful to create a centralized, always-on storage and backup hub for all your devices. You can automatically back up photos from your iPhone over WiFi to the NAS. Using accompanying apps, you can then access, share and sync those photos on all your family’s devices. A NAS is ideal if you have a large photo library and want the redundancy, automated backups, remote access and ease of sharing that network-attached storage provides. Just make sure to secure your NAS so that your private photos aren’t exposed on the internet.

Overall, a NAS is preferable over an external hard drive for wireless accessibility, automated tasks, expandable storage, and simultaneous connections. But an external hard drive can also serve as sufficient network storage if your needs are minimal. For iPhone photos, the choice depends on how advanced and centralized you want your storage and backup solution to be.

Photo Management Apps

There are many apps available to help organize, edit and back up photos on an iPhone. Two popular options are Google Photos and Adobe Lightroom.

Google Photos offers free unlimited storage for photos up to 16MP and videos up to 1080p resolution. It uses AI to automatically organize photos by people, places and things. Photos can be accessed from any device through the cloud. The app lacks more advanced editing tools but overall provides an easy way to store, find and share photos.

Adobe Lightroom offers professional-level editing tools and organization capabilities. The desktop and mobile apps sync so you can edit photos seamlessly across devices. Lightroom does not provide cloud storage, so you need to connect it to external drives or cloud services like Dropbox to back up your photos. It costs $10/month for the photography plan.

When using external storage like hard drives, these apps can automatically sync and back up photos. For example you can configure Google Photos to save an original copy of every photo taken to an external drive connected to your computer. The flexibility to combine external storage with apps gives lots of options to securely store photos while still making them easy to access.

Organizing and Backing Up

There are a few best practices for organizing your iPhone photos for an external storage device:

– Create a logical folder structure based on dates, events, people, or other categories that make sense for your photo library. This will make it easy to browse and find photos later (see Apple’s guide on sorting iPhone photos).

– Make use of albums in the Photos app to organize subsets of photos that you might want to export together. The albums will be maintained even when photos are stored externally.

– Avoid duplicate photos between the Photos app and your external storage, which can create confusion down the line. Delete photos from the Photos app after confirming they’ve been exported and backed up externally.

– Give folders and files descriptive names like “Hawaii2022” instead of just numbers or dates. This will help you identify the content later.

It’s also important to have a robust backup strategy when storing photos externally. Best practices include:

– Maintaining multiple copies of your photos in different locations in case one method fails or is lost. For example, you may store photos both on an external hard drive and a cloud storage service.

– Making sure backups are automated on a schedule rather than manual to avoid forgetting. Many cloud services and external drives have built-in options for scheduled backups.

– Storing a physical backup offline like an external hard drive that’s kept disconnected when not doing backups. This protects against ransomware or other technical issues.

– Testing backups occasionally by restoring some files to make sure the process is working properly. Don’t take it for granted.

– Encrypting backups for security, especially if storing personal photos. Encryption protects photos in case a backup gets lost or stolen.

Privacy and Security

Keeping your photos private and secure is important, especially if they contain sensitive or personal information. When using cloud services like iCloud or Google Photos, be sure to thoroughly review their privacy policies. Companies can potentially access or share your data for various purposes. Consider using providers like Proton Drive that offer end-to-end encryption for your photos.

If storing photos on external hard drives, encrypt the drive contents to protect your data. On Macs, you can enable FileVault encryption. Windows 10 includes BitLocker encryption. There are also third party tools like Veracrypt that work across platforms. Store your drive in a secure location to prevent physical access or theft. Enable password protection as another layer of security.

When sharing photos with others, use apps like Signal or Wire that incorporate end-to-end encryption. This prevents third parties from accessing your content as it’s transferred. You can also password protect albums or individual photos before sharing them externally.

Sharing and Access

There are a few different options for accessing your photos on different devices when they are stored externally. Here are some of the top ways:

  • Use a cloud storage service like iCloud or Google Photos to sync photos across devices. You can access your photos from any device logged into the same account. See Apple’s support page for help setting up iCloud Photos.
  • Store photos on an external hard drive and plug it into the device you want to access them from. This works well for accessing from a desktop computer.
  • Set up a home NAS (network attached storage) device and access your photos from any device on your home network.

Sharing photos from external storage also has a few options:

  • Use a cloud storage service like iCloud or Google Photos to share albums or entire libraries. You can invite others to view or collaborate.
  • Email photos directly from your storage device if it’s plugged into a desktop computer.
  • For NAS devices, set up shared folders that allow access from other devices on your home network.


External storage devices can sometimes cause issues when used with an iPhone. Here are some common problems and tips for troubleshooting:

Common Issues

Some common issues when using external storage with an iPhone include:

  • The external drive not being recognized or showing up at all. This is often due to compatibility issues, faulty cables, or power supply problems.
  • Slow data transfer speeds. This can happen if you are using an older, slower drive or interface like USB 2.0.
  • Apps not loading content properly from the external drive. This is usually a formatting issue.
  • The external drive randomly disconnecting, especially when power is low.
  • Data corruption or loss if the drive is disconnected improperly.

Troubleshooting Tips

Here are some tips for troubleshooting external storage issues:

  • Make sure you are using the proper cable that came with the drive and it is connected securely.
  • If the drive came with an external power supply, make sure it is plugged in.
  • Check if the drive needs to be reformatted to a compatible iOS file system like APFS or exFAT.
  • Try connecting the drive to a powered USB hub or directly to a power source.
  • Restart your iPhone and reconnect the drive.
  • Update to the latest iOS version which may include external drive fixes.
  • Use the Apple Diagnostics tool to test for issues with the iPhone’s USB port.
  • As a last resort, contact the drive manufacturer for technical support.

Following proper connectivity, formatting, and power procedures can help avoid most issues with external storage on iPhones. Make sure your data is regularly backed up in case of device failures.


When it comes to storing your iPhone photos externally, you have several solid options to choose from. Cloud storage services like iCloud, Google Photos, and Dropbox provide anywhere access to your photos, automated syncing and backups, and easy sharing capabilities. For more storage capacity, external hard drives and networked storage like a NAS allow you to keep all your photos in one organized place while maintaining sole physical control.

Photo management apps like Google Photos and Adobe Lightroom help you search, edit, organize, and share no matter where your photos are saved. And don’t forget to enable encryption, two-factor authentication, and other security measures to keep your photos private.

For most iPhone users, a cloud storage service is likely the simplest and most convenient option. The free tiers typically provide enough space for basic photo backups and syncing across devices. For professional or power users with larger collections, investing in a NAS or multi-drive external RAID array will offer vastly more local storage and control.

The key is finding the right balance of automated backups to the cloud and deep external storage capacity that fits your specific photo needs and budget. With the variety of excellent options now available, you can rest assured knowing your iPhone photos are safe and accessible for many years to come.

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