I use external hard drives to store all of my photos and for my backups. External hard drives are great, but they must be formatted properly before you start filling them up with important information. To this day, a PC cannot read from a hard drive that has been formatted for the Mac without additional software. Likewise, the Mac OS X Operating System can read from, but cannot write to, an external drive that has been formatted for a PC using the NTFS file system without additional software.
Regardless of brand or model, the very first thing that you must do when you buy a brand new external hard drive is to format it properly for your system. Format and partition your new disk immediately, before you start using it for backup or for additional file storage. It is essential that you do this right away, before you start using the drive, because the formatting process erases everything on the external disk.
Most photographers will want to format their new external hard drives using their operating system’s optimal style. NTFS is the standard for Windows users and OS X Extended (Journaled) is the standard for Mac folks.
How to format an external drive (Mac):
How to format an external drive (Windows):
Getting Fancy: Going Cross-Platform
What if you need to use the same external hard drives with both types of computers? If you set the external drive up using NTFS then the Mac can’t write files onto it. Rats. If you set the drive up using OS X Extended then the PC won’t even recognize it. Double-rats. So what to do?
The very best solution that I have found to this dilemma is to avoid this whole problem. If you can use one external hard drive for your Mac and a separate drive formatted for a PC when your working with a Windows computer. But if you must use the same drive with both types of computer then you need to install some additional software. PC users who face this problem should look into a super cool program called MacDrive 9. With MacDrive, your PC can both read and write to an OS X Extended hard drive!
Mac users who find themselves in a similar position should look into a program called Paragon NTFS for Mac OS 14. Like MacDrive, this inexpensive utility gives a Mac the ability to both read and write to an NTFS hard drive. Once I have MacDrive installed on my PC, I can use an external hard drive that has been formatted using either the NTFS or OS X Extended system. Likewise, with Paragon NTFS for Mac OS X installed, my Mac suddenly works with either drive format. Problem solved!
For more advice on selecting the appropriate drive format I urge you to read this article from the American Society of Media Photographers fantastic dpbestflow.org project.