Aug 302014

imageI’ve been taking digital photos since 1998, and I’ve scanned many old family photos from before that. It’s over 50,000 pictures total. That’s nearly 200 GB of storage space needed. I like having all of my pictures available for searching with Picasa. When I ask Picasa to look for “sunset” I see 234 pictures in the results. The most recent picture is from last week, and the oldest picture is from April 2001. And, I got those results in a fraction of a second! Does that mean that all my pictures are on my computer’s internal hard drive?


Most of them are on a USB external hard drive. My new laptop computer is a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro. It’s sleek and it’s fast, it uses a solid state hard drive, you may have seen it designated as SSD. That means the hard drive is more like a flash drive than a traditional computer hard drive. That keeps it light and very fast. BUT, it’s small. Where computer hard drives were getting up to a standard size of 400 GB or more, my computer’s hard drive is only 220 GB. If I put all my pictures on it, I wouldn’t have room for anything else.

Picasa Can Watch Your USB Hard Drive

Here’s how I do it. I only keep the last year’s worth of pictures on my computer. Over 48,000 of my pictures, are on a 500 GB USB External hard drive. Then I use Picasa’s Folder manager to watch them there. (see Tutorial Video: Folder Manager #233) Think of it like Picasa is ‘spanning’ your computer and the attached USB drive to give you your complete photo library.

This is different from a backup on hard drive. A backup set are pictures that are stored safely away in a cupboard and only touched when you’re making a new backup. These are the pictures I am working with on a day-to-day basis. Some of them got there originally by copying from old backup disks even before I used Picasa. And, some of them got there from Picasa’s “Move Folder” command. (see Tutorial Video: pics19.Move Folders of Pictures to an External Drive membership required)

  At the end of each year, I move each folder of pictures from the computer to the External hard drive. You simply right-click on the folder using Picasa, and choose “Move Folder …” When prompted where to move it to I navigate to my hard drive and the Pictures folder.


Assign a Letter to your Hard Drive

There is one issue with this process and that is when you unplug, and re-plug in your USB hard drive. When you unplug the drive, Picasa can’t see the pictures. No problem, they just disappear from your library. When you plug the USB drive back in, you want them to instantly re-appear. That is exactly what will happen, IF the USB drive has the same drive letter as the last time it was plugged in. This may or may not be the case depending on what other drives you have connected. If it has a different drive letter than the last time, Picasa thinks it’s a different drive, and it will re-scan it, taking lots of time.  The way to be sure that it has the same drive letter is to use your Windows Drive Manager to assign a permanent letter, like P – for Picasa! Here’s a video that shows you how.

  15 Responses to “Store your Pictures on an External Hard Drive”

  1. Excellent article which points in the right learning direction 🙂 Thanks also for the Video about changing the alphabet for the EHD on the computer. Good thinking.

  2. I have a Mac computer and store all my pictures on a external hard drive. Every time my computer is disconnected and reconnected, it loses all previously scanned thumbnails and begins a fresh scan as described in the ‘Assign a Letter to your Hard Drive’ section above. Does anyone know how I accomplish the same result of a fixed drive, that is described for a PC in this section for my Mac computer to have them stored in memory and instantly re-appear as described without a full scan?

  3. I used the move command to move my folders to an external drive but now picasa can’t find them. I checked and they are there. The P drive is selected for scanning in Folder Manager. I’ve restarted picasa a few times. Any idea on what to try next?

    • Found them. In the folder list under My Computer. It said (0) next to that folder so I has assumed it was empty, but when I clicked on it anyway in desperation, suddenly there they were and the 0 changed to 52,000.

      For others who are moving folders to a hard drive, I’ll share that some of the folders with subfolders moved the subfolders with one click. But on most of the folders, I had to move each folder one at a time. Actually you can have 3 or 4 moving at once. Picasa can keep track of what it is doing.

      THanks Chris for this helpful topic.

      • I’m SO glad you found them!
        The reason that Picasa sometimes moves subfolders and sometimes doesn’t is that the parent folder must have some pictures stored directly in that folder. If so, then moving the parent folder should also move all the subfolders. If the parent folder only contains subfolders, then the subfolders must be moved individually. Picasa can only work with a folder that contains pictures. Here’s a video that shows what I mean: (membership required)

        • Thank you for that tip. I ended up with quite a few empty folders because over the years sometimes picasa couldn’t find a folder and I ended up putting it under another new folder in order for it to recognize it instead of redoing the whole database.

          Another reminder for your fans is to be sure to tell carbonate to backup the new external hard drive if it was only doing the computer’s before.

          Would you please do a post on how to best to save albums? Lately picasa web is not available due to Server Error for days. I’d feel better with a copy of my online albums here at home. Thanks!

  4. […] Chris Guld explains how to keep your pictures on an external hard drive and still have Picasa watch and have access to all your photos, whether on the local or external hard drive. […]

  5. What’s the best way to move a zillion pix from a phone (e.g., Sansung S5) to Picasa on a laptop? I filled up Dropbox. Thanks.

  6. Hi Chris, thanks for this very timely tutorial. I have very recently moved my older pics onto an external drive.
    My question is this;
    My laptop has three USB ports, and my hard drive is plugged in using one of these, currently called ‘My Passport (F:). I’ve always made sure till now that I use the same port so as not to confuse Picasa as each port has a different letter. If I renamed the drive as per your tutorial, will it be called that regardless of which port I plug it into?

    • Kate, it’s been my experience that once I renamed the drive to P: it stayed regardless of what port it was plugged into. The drive letter is not assigned by the port – it’s more an alphabetical order for whatever devices you have plugged in at the same time. So, if one time you have no other devices plugged into usb ports, then your drive gets the letter F. Next time, if you have a usb thumb drive plugged in first, it may get F: assigned, then you plug in your drive it will get G: assigned. So, if you manually assign a letter like P: there is no danger that it will ever get bumped. I can’t explain it, I’m not a systems engineer – it actually astounds me that when I plug that drive into another computer it is still recognized as P: That said, it is a good idea to plug it into the same USB port, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the same letter unless you’ve explicitly assigned it.

  7. Chris thanks for the very timely article. This is exactly what I’ve been meaning “to get around to”. The My Pictures folder is filling up my laptop’s “C” drive where my OS is also stored. I like your method of removing all but recent pictures from your laptop’s HD.
    Very handy tip on giving the external HD a drive letter name to prevent Picassa from re-scanning.

  8. If all your photos are on a external hard drive, why is it necessary to use Back UP storage?

    • Backup means an additional, or second, copy of your pictures. The pictures on my hard drive are my first copy. If I didn’t have a backup, they would be my only copy of those pictures. What do I do if that hard drive failed, got destroyed, lost or stolen?

  9. Quick question. I did not assign a letter to my external hard drive and now I have 3 or for copies of the files. If I delete all but one copy will I be okay? Thanks.

    • If you used the Folder Manager to see the pictures on your hard drive, then you do not have multiple copies on your computer. Do not delete anything until you verify that you do indeed have duplicates. Look at your pictures using Windows Explorer (or Mac Finder) to verify. When the hard drive has a different letter than the last time, it can cause Picasa to re-scan. But it’s NOT copying.

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