I recently purchased a new NAS system in order to expand storage capacity for my images while also being able to access them from anywhere.
After a week or so of file transfers and uploads, I now have a workflow where I can edit images using a Lightroom catalog on my Mac, referencing images stored on the NAS, and both the Mac and NAS files backed up to the cloud. That’s a lot of backups and if feels good to finally be so organised.
A few people have since asked for my setup and how it works, so here’s a quick write up…
What I Bought
After much recommendation about both Synology and QNAP NAS systems, I opted for the following NAS with two Western Digital WD Red 3TB drives. I currently have around 600GB of images and an additional 500GB of storage left on my laptop, so that’s enough future proofing for a couple of years.
QNAP TS-251+-2G 2 Bay Desktop NAS Enclosure with 2GB RAM
At the time of writing this NAS is around £260 on Amazon.
2x WD Red 3TB NAS Desktop Hard Disk Drive – Intellipower SATA 6 Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5 Inch
I purchased two of these WD Red 3TB HDDs. At the time of writing these are around £100 on Amazon.
The total cost for this came to around £460 for 3TB of networked storage with a spare drive to allow for a raid-1 backup. Both of these arrived within a couple of days using Amazon Prime.
Step 1 – HDD Install
This is super easy – just pop out the trays and attach the HDDs with the screws provided.
Step 2 – QNAP Software & Setup
This one’s quite specific to the QNAP system, but simply put: once the drive is in, you simply need to plug it in to your router with an ethernet cable, turn it on, and follow the simple instructions in the box. This will guide you through updating the firmware of the system, initialising the HDDs in the setup you want (you don’t have to pick raid-1 if you’d rather use both directly).
Step 3 – Image copying
Copying files over to the NAS took a while. It first had to get over to the NAS, then mirror to the second drive. During this process I kept all my images on my Mac until I was happily sure they’d copied over ok. Once copied, I also made a second backup onto a portable 1TB drive. You can never be too safe with backups!
Edit: After discussion with Mark Zaffin there are some further notes to add here which affect people who work a different way to me. Mark suggested that folks could connect their computer directly to the NAS rather than transferring over WIFI. Our network is good here so that didn’t need to worry about this, but if you have a poor network, it’s worth considering for the initial copy.
Step 4 – Cloud Backups
Having got everything copied over to the NAS, I needed to find a way to hook this up to my cloud backup. For years I have used Crashplan to backup my local files and it’s saved me on more than one occasion.
In order to back up the NAS, I simply needed to add the mounted volume to the checked directories for backup in Crashplan.
Important note 1: You need to make sure the volume mounts at a consistent path. Mine seemed to occasionally mess up and change from Volumes->home to Volumes->home-1 etc. If the mount location moves, Crashplan will fail to find it and your sync will fail. If ever Crashplan says it can’t find your NAS, check the volume is mounted correctly.
Important note 2: This relates specifically to Crashplan though I’m sure there are options for other backup providers. There’s a setting in the preferences to make sure that files are not removed from your cloud backup when they can’t be found on the original location. This is important to turn on to prevent issues with temperamental volume mounting or if your NAS is offline.
Step 5 – Lightroom
With everything backed up, I tried to open my Lightroom Catalog which I’d moved over to the NAS with my images. That’s just a big pile of nope. It doesn’t work. It won’t work. I spent hours googling for work arounds and it just seems like it can’t be done.
Time for a backup plan:
Since I was changing how everything was stored (I kept certain folders on my laptop), I decided to make a new Lightroom catalog on my Mac using images from both the NAS and my local machine. I then simply followed the usual Import steps to import (without copying or moving) the images from the NAS. I also made sure that Smart Previews were enabled so that I can quickly work on my images. I would say it’s as simple as that but I found that Lightroom crashed multiple times during the import. I only have ~25k files so if you have a large number of images, you’ll need to keep an eye on it and keep re-synchronize the folders until you have everything imported. It’s rather tedious, but it will work in the end.
Edit: I had a great discussion about this with Kuba Cupisz over on my Facebook page. Kuba asked me about whether the new Lightroom catalog had maintained my edits after reimporting everything. Turns out it hadn’t, so watch out for this! I hadn’t checked it because I do all my editing in Photoshop. He suggests that if people want to keep their edits, they could try keeping their original catalogs and simply point them to the new file locations once the copy to the NAS has completed. This is a great idea and much more sensible than my process. If anyone tries it this way, let us know if your Develop settings persist ok!
Step 6 – Final Tests
At this point, everything should be working ok! I ran a few extra tests just to make sure everything was working ok:
- Import new images from your camera in Lightroom directly to the correct place on the NAS
- Ensure that the raid-1 mirroring works if you set up your NAS that way.
- Ensure that your cloud backup system correctly detects the new files on the NAS and backs them up.
- Try disabling or turning off your NAS to ensure that things don’t break. If you have smart previews you should be able to still browse your catalog. Upon re-enabling your NAS everything should still be working and ideally your cloud backups should resume without needing to re-upload anything.
- As per Kuba’s feedback above: if you use Lightroom for your edits rather than Photoshop, check the edits persisted during the move!
Step 7 – All done!
At this point, if all your tests pass, you should be safe to use your new workflow!
If you have any questions about my setup or want to know any more detailed information, do feel free to get in touch!