For most of us, our iPhones are our cameras. They capture our lives in ways cameras never did because we almost always have our phones with us. All those pictures and videos are precious memories of times spent with our families, friends, and others. That’s why it’s so important to back up all those photos and videos. You know, just in case something happens to our device or if storage starts running out.
In the past, the best options for backing up were iCloud Photo Library, our computers, or a third-party app like Google Photos or Amazon Photos. For years, backing up to an external drive was a time-consuming process involving third-party apps that often failed in the end.
But no more! After years of asking Apple to officially support external drives for our iPhones, iPads, and iPods, iOS 13 and iPadOS finally bring it on!
With iOS13+ and iPadOS, all our iDevices support external hard drives and flash drives. That means we can move files between our iDevices and our external drives as much as we want WITHOUT A COMPUTER!
Apple even allows third-party apps to use those external drives directly, without needing an intermediary like the Files or Photos App.
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- Learn to Download photos from iCloud to an external drive (USB drive)
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- The Definitive Guide to iCloud Photos in 2019
- Backing up your photos and videos is as easy as 1-2-3 with an external drive and iOS13+ or iPadOS!
- No time? Check out our video!
- Provide your external drive power!
- How to move pictures and videos from your iPhone or iPad to an external drive
- And it’s easy to move pictures and videos from your external drive to your iPhone or iPad too!
- Why back up my photos to an external drive?
- Attach, import, edit, view, and even playback your external drive’s photos and videos without copying to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod
Backing up your photos and videos is as easy as 1-2-3 with an external drive and iOS13+ or iPadOS!
Our iPhones, iPads, and iPods have amazing capabilities to shoot high-resolution photos and videos. But all that quality adds up, using a lot of precious device space. And that often results in error messages like “storage almost full” or “cannot take photo, there is not enough available storage.”
It was often a real pain to free up storage using previous iOS versions (12 and below.) You had to turn on iCloud Photo Library, back up your photo library to your Mac or Windows PC, or use a combination of other methods to ensure your pictures and videos were safely stored elsewhere before deleting them from your iPhone or iPad.
iOS13 and iPadOS finally put the power into our hands by officially supporting external drives, making backing up all those photos and videos a matter of minutes rather than hours.
So let’s get to it!
No time? Check out our video!
Apple’s camera adapter allows you to connect an external storage device AND provides power to it using the adapter’s onboard Lightning connector. Unfortunately, most third-party camera adapters as they do not reliably provide sufficient power for most external devices. So if possible, stick with Apple’s adapter.
Some of the newer iPads have a USB-C connector instead of a Lightning connector. These models provide sufficient power for some thumb and flash drives. For larger drives, use a powered USB hub or self-powered USB storage device.
How to move pictures and videos from your iPhone or iPad to an external drive
- Before anything, make sure your device runs at least iOS 13 or iPadOS–preferably check for an update before starting your back up process
- Connect your hard drive to your iPhone or iPad using a lightning to USB adapter, a USB-C cable, SD card adapter, or another adapter/hub that support your iDevice’s connector and the hard drive’s connector
- For most iDevices, the hard drive needs its own power source–it cannot siphon sufficient power from the iDevice’s lightning/USB-C port so make sure you plug in your drive to an external power source, preferably a wall outlet not a computer port
- For the USB camera or multiport adapters, make sure you plug that into a power source as well
- Open the Files app and select the Browse tab at the bottom to confirm your external drive successfully connected to your iDevice–look for the device’s name under Locations
- Open the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad
- Select the photos you want to back up to your external drive. Tap each photo you want. You can press and drag to select multiple pictures at once. Albums also offer a select all option to choose all the images in a specific album
- After choosing your photos, tap the share button
- Optional: press Options to select your photo options, like including location and photo information. Press Done to save your options
- Scroll down the share sheet and tap Save to Files
- Choose your external hard drive or select a folder from that drive–you can create a new folder on the drive too by pressing the new folder icon from the top
- After choosing your location on the hard drive, tap Save
- iOS shows a message that it’s saving your photos to your external drive–wait for the process to complete
- When your device completes the save, it returns to the selected Photos app album
- Open the Files app again and confirm iOS saved your photos to the external drive
Once you confirm your pictures saved to your external drive, you can safely delete them from the Photos app
- If your goal is to get back internal storage immediately, make sure you clear the Photos app Recently Deleted album to free up that space
- When you delete photos from the Photos app, they are held in this Recently Deleted folder for 30 days before iOS permanently removes them from your device (just in case you accidentally deleted any)
- It’s a good idea to restart your device after permanently removing any photos
Problems getting your external drive to connect to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod?
If you are not able to successfully connect your external drive to your iDevice, first make sure that drive has its own power source and is not solely dependent on getting power from your device.
Next, verify that all devices run at least iOS 13 or iPadOS. Earlier versions did not officially support external drives.
Restarting the device with the external drive connected often helps your device “see” your external drive.
Check out our article External hard drive not working with iPad or iPhone using iPadOS or iOS 13? for more help on when your device does not work with your external drive.
And it’s easy to move pictures and videos from your external drive to your iPhone or iPad too!
If you have some photos you want to move onto your iPhone, iPad, or iPod, iOS 13+ and iPadOS let you do that as well.
And yup, it’s pretty darn easy.
How to transfer pictures and videos from an external drive to your iPhone or iPad
- Connect your external drive to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod–again, remember you need an external power source for your drive
- Open the Files app
- Tap the Browse button
- Tap open your external drive under the list of Locations
- For photos and videos in folders, tap open the folder
- Select the photo(s) you want to move to your iDevice
- Tap the Share Button
- Choose Save Image from the share sheet
Why back up my photos to an external drive?
There are a lot of reasons why folks might want to back up to a physical drive.
- Your device is running low on internal storage, and you’re getting error messages
- You don’t want to pay for Apple’s iCloud storage plans
- Your photo library is huge! And it doesn’t easily transfer with AirDrop and other sharing services
- You want to quickly share photos with others, including folks not using Apple devices (so no AirDrop)
- The pictures and videos are very important to you, and you want another backup, just in case something happens to your device and/or your iCloud account
- You don’t have a computer and want a physical backup
- You want to play your photos on your Smart TV using its USB stick function and slideshow options
- Love control? Backing up your photos and videos with an external drive gives you control over what’s backed up
What are the advantages of backing up to an external drive?
- No more lack of enough space on your older devices! Transfer your picture and videos to the external drive and save internal space, extending the life of your older, smaller storage devices
- No third-party app required with iOS13+ or iPadOS–complete native iOS/iPadOS support
- One of the biggest advantages of using an external drive with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod and iOS13+/iPadOS is the ease of moving files between different devices and operating systems. That’s because iOS/iPadOS recognizes a variety of drive formatting, including ExFat (for Android and Windows), FAT32, HSF+, and APFS (Apple File System)
- Quickly transfer photos from an iPhone or iPad to an Android phone or tablet
- Fast transfer of the files from your external drive to a computer or another backup drive
- You can connect SD cards, thumb/flash/jump drives, portable or desktop hard drives, and of course solid-state drives.
- You can even connect a hub (with its own power source) to transfer your photos and videos (or any other files) onto multiple drives, without needing to change inputs and outputs! And yes, you can move your files between your drives without needing to save them to your iDevice’s local storage.
What are the disadvantages of backing up to an external drive?
While we love the idea of backing up to a physical drive, there are some downsides:
- Photo quality mirrors what’s on your device, so if you optimize photos your external drive copies these compressed photos, not the originals
- External drives do not recognize duplicate photos or videos
- You cannot store your Photos app library on an external drive
- Any physical device can fail or become corrupt
- An inability to write directly to external devices. Currently, you cannot take photos and videos using your iPhone, iPad, or iPod and have them store natively to your external drive. You still must use the Photos app as an intermediary
Attach, import, edit, view, and even playback your external drive’s photos and videos without copying to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod
View and watch without using device storage
If you want to take a look at the videos and photos on your external drive, you can do that right in the Files app. You do not have to copy your photos or videos to your device first.
This feature includes playing videos and movies directly off the external drive without copying to your device’s internal storage!
Attach to communications
You can also attach photos and videos into a message, email, document, or other communication without needing to copy it over to your device.
Just make sure you choose to insert your photo as a document using Add Document (not insert photo or video)–then locate the photo/video using the files app!
Or use the Files app and share the photo/video using the Files app’s share sheet.
Import & Edit Directly into apps
While you can now access the photo/video file directly via the Files app, you can also import images and videos straight from an external source (a drive, card reader, or camera) into photo management and editing apps, like Adobe Lightroom and other third-party photo apps.
To work, the apps must support this functionality–it does not work out of the box.
For all previous iOS versions (12 and lower), you had to first import all photos into your Photos app’s library. And then you imported into your third-party app.
But with iOS13+ and iPad OS, there’s a direct import into third-party applications. So we no longer need to duplicate photos and videos intended for photo editing and management apps.
For most of her professional life, Amanda Elizabeth (Liz for short) trained all sorts of folks on how to use media as a tool to tell their own unique stories. She knows a thing or two about teaching others and creating how-to guides!
Her clients include Edutopia, Scribe Video Center, Third Path Institute, Bracket, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Big Picture Alliance.
Elizabeth received her Master of Fine Arts degree in media making from Temple University, where she also taught undergrads as an adjunct faculty member in their department of Film and Media Arts.