5 Tips to Save Hard Drive Space and Speed Up Your Computer

I remember back when I had my first digital camera I had a 128mb memory card and I thought that was gigantic. After a wedding or two, I also bought a 75gb external hard drive. Again, I thought that was a huge amount of storage.

10 years later and now I have two 64gb cards in my camera and I just purchased a 4tb hard drive to add to my Drobo because it was getting full. That’s not the end of it! My desk is cluttered with four other external hard drives: one for video, one for general portraits, one for high school seniors, and one backing up my iMac.

All of these hard drives can really be a pain. They take up a bunch of space on my desk, use all my USB ports, and cost a hundred dollars or more a piece. Things are only going to get crazier in the future. 24-megapixel cameras seem to be the standard now, and it looks like we might be moving toward 50-megapixel cameras.  

5 Tips to Save Hard Drive Space and Speed Up Your Computer

If you’re like me and you’re always running out of space,  here are 5 tips for reducing file size and saving space. This can help you save money, speed up your computer, and be organized and find things faster.

1. Organize Your Files

It all starts with organization. If you can’t find your files, you can’t fix your problems. I really struggle with this. I tend to just throw files on my desktop or in a random folder. Sometimes I’ll have downloaded a file multiple times because I can’t find the original. Now I’ve got two or more copies of the same thing floating around!

different hard drives

One thing that has helped is having dedicated hard drives. As I mentioned earlier, I have hard drives for different things. This way, I know where to start looking. If it’s a wedding, I go to one place. If it’s video, I go to another.

organized folders

Next, I organize the folders within the hard drives. For weddings and high school seniors, I start out by year and then by month. This helps me know how long something has been on my hard drive and also which I need to work on first.

For my general portrait hard drive, I do things a bit differently. Because I’m working with the same people, again and again, I don’t do it by date. I start out by sorting by the type of session (newborn, family, headshots) and then by the client. Within the client’s folder, I have it organized by date. You can really do it however you want, but you need a system you can follow and understand.

2. Delete, delete, delete

Most likely, your computer and hard drives are filled with files that you don’t really even need anymore. If you can get rid of these files, you could save yourself a TB or more.

Delete Extra Photos

I don’t know about you, but I tend to overshoot at times. I’ll fire two or three bursts and then I’ll take the same photo again. This usually ensures I get a usable shot, but it also creates a lot of extra files. Out of 2000 photos I might take at a wedding, I usually only show the client half of those, and then they might get 400 of them in the end. That means there’s 1600 photos or roughly 32gb that I don’t need.

delete extra photos

I don’t delete these unused files right away. With weddings, I want to make sure I have everything until the client is satisfied and then I wait even longer. I will keep every photo I shot from a wedding for at least 6 months. Then, I will usually delete the photos I didn’t show them. At the year mark, I will delete the rest of the RAW files. I will still have the jpgs and I never completely get rid of those.

Delete Downloaded Items

Do you like to download things like programs or PDFs or other random things? I know I sure do! The problem is that I tend to leave these things in my download folder. The majority of these files I will never use again and have no reason to keep. Delete them!

One really easy way to see what you can delete in the Download folder is through the arrangement of the files. You can change the view to by date added and then you’ll be able to see how long a file has been there. You can also change it to file size, and you’ll be able to see what’s taking up the most space.

Delete Old Lightroom Catalogs

Old Lightroom catalogs can also be a space stealer! If you use different Lightroom Catalogues for the majority of your shoots, there are plenty you can get rid of. Do you really need the catalog from a family session three years ago? Most likely you’ve already deleted those RAW files, so it wouldn’t even work. Delete them! If this scares you, you can always just go in and get rid of the backups and the previews. You will still be able to open the catalog, and you’ll save a ton of space.

view by date

Again, I would view it by the date added. Then, you’ll be able to see how long the files have been there.

3. Reducing File Sizes

Some of you out there are probably paranoid about deleting anything from your computer. I completely get that. It’s scary to delete something because you think you might need it later. There is another alternative to deleting the RAW files that you just might like.

Exporting RAWs to Jpeg

So you can’t stand to not have every single photo you’ve ever taken, but you don’t want to keep all the RAW files around. If that’s the case, export all the RAW files you want to get rid of as a jpeg. Then, you’ll still have the image but it won’t take up as much space.

As far as the size goes, that’s up to you. I don’t plan on making any billboards, so I’m ok with smaller files. I will usually turn a 24 MB file into a 3-4 MB file. That’s a big difference!

Even Smaller Jpegs

Jpegs can still take up a lot of space. Another option is to reduce the size of all of your jpegs. I use JPEGmini. It drastically reduces the size of a file, but it keeps the quality and sharpness. It isn’t free, but it isn’t that expensive. You can get the desktop app for $29 or you can get the pro version for $99.

jpeg mini finished

I use this workflow with the files I deliver to my clients. These jpegs are usually bigger, maybe 10-20mb. About a year after the wedding, I will move these jpegs for long-term storage. At that point, I run JPEGmini to reduce the file size.

jpegmini working

Using JPEGmini is simple. You drag your photo or folder into the dashboard, and it starts doing its thing. One thing to note. When you run this program, it can replace your old jpegs. If the setting is on, it will ask you first before it does it. This is the point, but I know that scares many of you. From my experience, I’ve never seen a difference between the original and the smaller file.

4. Save Online or backup

Another great option these days for freeing up space is to use an online service. Basically, your files are uploaded somewhere else, so you don’t have to keep them saved on your devices. You can still access them when you need them.

dropbox for backup

There are more and more options each day for an online storage service. The most popular are Dropbox and the Cloud. Both have free options, but it won’t store everything. I mainly use Dropbox and I spend $99 a year for 1 TB of space. I’ve yet to run out of space. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you get unlimited photo storage and 5 GB of video. I’ve just started using this for my iPhone photos, so  I’ll see how well it works. If it’s awesome, I’ll be moving away from Dropbox because free is better! Then, of course, you have Adobe CC. I just switched over (I know, I’m slow), so I don’t have much experience with it. The 20 GB of space I have with my plan won’t do much, but the 100 GB plan might work for some. I honestly don’t plan on using it for any kind of storage or online workflow.

backup with amazon

5. Software for Cleaning Your Computer

About three months ago I was getting super annoyed with how slow my computer was running. I decided to try CleanMyMac to see if I had any junk on my computer that I needed to get rid of. This could be things like old files, partially deleted programs, or other things that are slowing down your computer.

cleanmymac dropdown

CleanMyMac runs a scan of your computer and checks for several different things. I trust it to delete the majority of the things, but it does pull up old files and these are mainly my photos. If I wasn’t paying attention, I could delete a lot of important images. Still, I think this option is helpful because it does show me those files that have been around for a long time.

cleanmymac after scan

I don’t use a Windows-based computer, so I don’t have any experience with those programs. There are plenty of them out there, so if you use Windows, you’ll have to do some research.

Just a quick warning. Some people say these programs can cause problems. The majority of the reviews are positive, and I haven’t seen any issues with CleanMyMac, but I wanted to say it. I think with any program that deletes things there is a risk. Be careful what you do if you choose to use these.


Keeping your computer organized and your hard drive open is a chore much like Spring Cleaning. It’s something that you don’t like to do, but it needs to be done. Try to make these tasks part of your normal schedule. Start organizing every shoot and set a regular time to delete old files off of your computer. Once you get into the pattern, it will be much easier to do.

With all advice, it’s up to you to take what you want and leave the rest. I suggest you take a look at a few of these suggestions and see if it would help speed up your computer. I know just a few minutes ago my computer was running super slow and I was bashing my head against a wall, but then I cleaned a few things up and it’s going much smoother now. Good luck and I hope it makes your life easier!

9 thoughts on “5 Tips to Save Hard Drive Space and Speed Up Your Computer”

  1. Thanks for the instructions! I always have a messy desktop and so many files just being in the wrong place. Hopefully, I now have CCleaner to delete all the unnecessary things.

  2. The speed and the performance of the computer depend on the hard drive. So it is very important to have a sufficient space in your hard drive. So always try to delete the unwanted data from your device and this will speed up your device performance.

  3. I use a Western Digital NAS that I can put on a shelf out of the way. That way I can see the pictures on my PC, my tablet and my phone. Most NAS devices let you share with other people as well.

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