Unfortunately, or fortunately, I am orderly. Annoyingly orderly. The type of orderly person who keeps only one or at most two icons on the computer desktop, and the second one doesn’t last long because it becomes bothersome.
The desktop issue is just the tip of a much deeper iceberg that includes many other things I don’t boast about. In photography, one thing is certain: I hate having my images scattered across different hard drives (excluding backups, of course). Normally, all my images are always on my laptop’s hard drive, which travels with me everywhere.
This obsession is manageable as long as we’re talking about a reasonable number of images, but in my case, there have never been major problems because I not only shoot landscape photography but specifically long exposures, resulting in few images per session.
This is why, in my photography workshops, I usually get disapproving looks when asked about my storage strategy because I understand that it’s truly applicable to very few.
Everything would have continued smoothly if, one fine day this summer, I hadn’t finally decided to take the big leap: switching to a Fujifilm medium format. Although this choice has brought incredible advantages to my photography, it has also backed me into a corner because my Fujifilm GFX 100s is a little monster that produces 120MB of raw files each.
Even though sleek and efficient, a concentrated storage system can’t withstand this onslaught for long, and it became essential to find a solution that doesn’t involve having hard drives scattered around the house.
After months of research, I identified a Synology NAS as my savior, and today I’m here to share my experience with you.
What is a NAS?
As always, we’ll try not to be too technical or boring. Put simply, a NAS (Network-Attached Storage) is a storage device that connects to a local network, allowing various devices to access and share data in a centralized manner. It functions like a dedicated file server and provides storage space for documents, photos, videos, and other data. This enables efficient file storage, organization, and sharing among devices connected to the same network, facilitating data management, backup, and remote access to content. If properly configured, a NAS can also be accessed remotely.
In essence, using a NAS offers numerous advantages, including:
Centralized Storage: A NAS keeps all your data safe in one place.
Easy Sharing: You can easily share data with whoever you want, whenever you want.
Data Loss Protection: Thanks to the chosen RAID configuration (which we’ll discuss later), you can protect your data in case of a disk failure.
Automatic Backup: Your data is secure with the option for automatic backups.
Remote Access: You can access the NAS from anywhere with an internet connection.
Expandability: You can expand it when you need more space.
Although the potential of a NAS is immediately apparent, it’s easy to think that it’s something particularly complicated to manage, reserved for an elite group of computer geniuses. The reality is that despite the underlying technology, thanks to Synology, everything becomes as simple as having a regular external hard drive connected to your computer, but with all the advantages we’ve mentioned.
What I Want to Achieve with a Synology NAS
Since a NAS appears to be a solution as powerful and flexible as it is, let’s see if we can tailor it to our needs. My idea is to create a centralized archive to be installed in my studio, directly connected to my workstation (comprising a MacBook Pro laptop connected to a BenQ SW272U monitor and a Canon PRO-300 printer) and directly linked to my router. This way, I can access it, if needed, even when I’m travelling worldwide and have an internet connection.
On the NAS, I want to move my entire photo archive, leaving my laptop as the access and processing terminal. I will use various post-production and printing software on it.
Is it feasible? We will find out very soon.
The Synology Hardware Chosen for My NAS
To turn my idea into reality, what we need is a NAS, a bit of memory, some accessories, and a willingness for adventure.
Regarding the NAS, Synology offers a myriad of solutions that, to oversimplify, fundamentally differ in the number of hard drive bays available, the processor that controls them, and how the NAS connects to the rest of the world.
After some careful reading on the Synology website and thanks to the configurators always available on their site, my choice fell on a Synology DiskStation® DS923+ NAS.
Compact enough to be placed directly on my studio table, this gem features an AMD Ryzen R1600 CPU and has 4 drive bays (expandable to 9) where I can install as many hard drives for our storage (capable of storing a maximum of 54TB in the 4-bay configuration and up to 128TB in the 9-bay configuration). It has two RJ-45 1GbE LAN ports, two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, and a PCIe expansion slot that allows the installation of a 10GbE network card. There are also two M.2 NVMe SSD slots for faster access to frequently used files. It’s incredibly quiet, emitting only 22.9 dB(A).
In short, it seems to have everything I could need.
Configuration and Connection of the Synology DiskStation® DS923+ NAS
The first choice was related to the number of hard drives. The starting point is how much data we need to archive. Thinking of using it solely as an image storage tool (not as a media server or similar) and considering that I have stored less than 2TB of images on my laptop (yes, really), I choose to start with 2 3.5″ SATA hard drives of 6TB each.
The decision not to start with a higher number of hard drives and with hard drives of that specific size is linked to the fact that, as mentioned earlier, one of the great advantages of NAS systems is their modularity and expandability. I can always add or replace hard drives, so investing now in space I may use in the future is unnecessary. This strategy will save you quite a bit, believe me!
Next, I need to choose the RAID configuration for the disks, which essentially means deciding how to use the space provided by these hard drives. But we’ll talk about that later.
Now, let’s discuss my decision to use one of the two M.2 slots to install a 400GB SSD cache memory: this will allow even faster access to frequently used files because it is based on solid-state memory, which is undoubtedly my priority.
The remaining task is to figure out how to connect the NAS to my ecosystem according to the initial plan.
The general strategy I want to apply is to keep the Lightroom catalog on my laptop while storing all the images on the NAS, including those I want to edit. I want to be able to connect to the NAS remotely to work on some images or perhaps export work for a client, but the primary use will definitely be from my studio, connected to the same home network as the NAS. For this reason, I want to be able to connect to the NAS on the home network at the highest speed possible.
As mentioned, the Synology DiskStation® DS923+ has two RJ-45 1GbE LAN ports. However, since I want to both post-produce images physically stored on the NAS and possibly transfer new images to the NAS at the maximum speed, I decided also to install the E10G22-T1-Mini module, which is the network card upgrade to support connections up to 10 GbE. Its installation is extremely easy, as it simply needs to be inserted into the rear slot and secured with two screws without having to open the case or anything, and the cost is relatively affordable.
In reality, since I use a MacBook Pro, it’s not possible for me to fully exploit (without real complications) a 10 GbE connection. Therefore, I will use a USB-C to Ethernet adapter with 2.5 GbE on the MacBook Pro, effectively connecting the NAS and MacBook Pro at a maximum of 2.5 GbE, despite the newly installed 10 GbE card. It’s certainly a compromise but acceptable because I won’t be editing videos, and we are still able to achieve a theoretical speed of 315 MB/s instead of the 125 MB/s I would get through the 1 GbE port.
Next is to connect the NAS to the external network, and truth be told, also the MacBook Pro at this point. My provider provides me with a fiber FTTH connection, but since I live in the middle of nowhere, it’s a 1Gb connection (for now).
The solution to managing all connections easily and exploiting the highest available speed is called an Ethernet switch. Since I can’t currently use any 10 GbE connections, I purchased a 2.5 GbE switch on Amazon, which, once connected to everything, does its job excellently (it’s needless to say that a 2.5 GbE switch is much cheaper than a 10 GbE one). After testing with free programs, I can already tell you that the read and write speeds from MacBook Pro to NAS are very close to the theoretical values. In practice, my connection scheme looks something like this:
Certainly, more professional and precise ways exist to connect everything (probably more expensive, too). However, I’m happy that this solution seems to work well because I believe it’s a real home use case and something that can be useful to most of you.
The Choice of Hard Drives to Install on the Synology DiskStation® DS923+ NAS
As I mentioned, my initial choice to test whether the NAS was the solution I was looking for was relatively minimal, with only two 6TB hard drives. Once again, this is because my photo archive is very modest (under 2TB). After all, I didn’t want to fill myself with hard drives for a project that might not work out (it’s my first experience with NAS) because expanding the capacity later is quick if needed.
Regarding the type of hard drives to install, after reading articles written by those who understand much more than I do, I opted for two Synology professional 3.5″ SATA HDD HAT3300-6T. These models are chosen over generic ones because they are hard drives specifically designed for NAS, meaning they are built for continuous operation.
As for the cache memory, as mentioned earlier, I initially chose the Synology solution with an SNV3410-400G module to be installed in one of the two NVMe SSD slots, again with the idea of increasing space over time if it proves necessary and beneficial.
All that’s left is to connect everything and perform the initial setup before finally migrating our photos!
Setting up RAID and Synology DiskStation Manager (DSM)
Once connected and powered on, my computer immediately detects our NAS. In reality, the NAS is a standalone computer connected to the network, on which a series of hard drives are mounted, functioning with specific logic to allow us to store and protect our data. However, as I mentioned, despite the seeming complexity, it is entirely transparent to end-users thanks to Synology: the NAS is detected as a single drive connected to our computer.
The only real configuration we need to do is decide the RAID mode of operation, which, as we mentioned, essentially means deciding how the NAS should organize the available space on the installed hard drives. There are different standard RAID configuration modes, each assigned a numerical name ranging from 0 to 10, depending on the installed hard drives and how space is distributed among them. Since I currently have only two hard drives, I decide to set up RAID 1 mode. This will allow me to have a usable space of 5.5TB while keeping the other 5.5TB as protection. (The missing space is what the NAS needs for system management.)
An extremely important thing to clarify is that RAID is not a backup. RAID protects against hardware failure of one (or more) of the hard drives but does not protect us from accidental data overwrites or potential viruses. Therefore, we always need to manage backups separately. There are different ways to do this, and I will dedicate a specific article about performing backups.
Once this choice is made, we can forget about all this for a while because the NAS operating system will take care of everything, and once again, we are left with the simplicity of seeing a single external drive connected to the computer.
However, this drive has many advanced features that we can leverage thanks to its operating system (as we mentioned, it is, in fact, a computer) called Synology DiskStation Manager (DSM).
DSM (which, at the time of writing, reaches version 7.2) allows us to use many features, including creating a media server, managing backups, creating a virtual machine, managing surveillance cameras, organizing storage space upgrades, and, more generally, administering the system. All of this is done through the so-called “Synology Packages,” which are applications developed directly by Synology or third parties to meet specific needs.
Later, if you are interested, I will dedicate an article to the Synology packages I have found most useful, but for now, let’s focus on our primary goal: having our photo archive on the NAS.
After some system customization, it’s time to migrate our photo archive and start working with Adobe Lightroom pointed to the NAS!
Migrating the Photo Archive to the Synology DiskStation® DS923+ NAS
Our NAS is connected and operational. Now, we need to understand two things:
How to physically migrate our entire photo catalog
How to make Adobe Lightroom recognize the migration
Initially, I was quite concerned and skeptical because it seemed like a complex and potentially risky operation. However, it turned out to be a piece of cake, certainly simpler than everything we have seen so far.
The procedure is the same whether you have all your images on a single drive (like my case) or spread across multiple hard drives.
My image organization involves (as usual) a certain order. All images are on my MacBook Pro in a folder called “Raw,” which, in turn, has all the image imports organized using the year/date schema.
This is certainly not a fundamental requirement, but having a “clean” image organization will help you a lot, and if you are looking for a good reason to tidy up, perhaps now is the time. You will probably lose a few hours or days, but I guarantee you won’t regret it.
To migrate my files was very straightforward. First, through the “File Station” application in DSM, I created a shared folder on the NAS called “Photography.” Inside it, I then created an empty folder called “Raw.”
At this point, just like you would copy a file from one part of your computer to another, all I did was drag the content of the “Raw” folder on my MacBook Pro (so full of all the year/date subfolders) into the newly created “Raw” folder inside my Synology DiskStation® DS923+.
The operation takes a considerable amount of time, especially the larger your archive is, but it’s a one-time operation.
Now that all my images are migrated, all that’s left is to tell Adobe Lightroom what we did. When you open Adobe Lightroom, your image catalog will still point to the previous destination, in my case, the “Raw” folder inside the MacBook Pro (in your case, perhaps to a specific external hard drive).
All we need to do is go to the Library section of Lightroom, and in the left column under the “Folders” section, locate the folder containing the images you want to re-point (so, in my case, just the “Raw” folder on the MacBook Pro). Right-click on it and select “Update Folder Location.”
At this point, choose the new “Raw” folder on the NAS, where we copied our entire archive, and press OK.
As soon as you do this, Lightroom will immediately update the catalog to point to the new archive!
Of course, this operation is much simpler the better organized your archive is. If you don’t have a single “Raw” folder like mine that encompasses everything, you can either tidy up your archive and replicate the folder structure inside the NAS, or make individual redirects for each specific folder. Once again, I believe now is the right time to reorganise your images before migrating everything.
Tip: Before performing this operation, it’s a good idea to back up the Lightroom catalog. Everything will likely go well, but if something happens, it’s better to be prepared to revert.
Now, all that’s left is to test if it’s indeed possible to work from Lightroom on our laptop with images physically stored on the NAS.
Post-Processing Images Stored on the NAS with Adobe Lightroom
I confess that after studying everything and setting up this system, the tension was through the roof.
To see if it’s indeed possible to post-process images stored on the NAS with Adobe Lightroom on a laptop where only the Catalog remains, I decided to choose the most demanding case (which for me will be the most realistic): opening a 120 MB RAW file taken with the Fuji GFX 100s and applying random adjustments.
The result is truly fantastic! Once Lightroom is opened, the loading of previews is instantaneous because we have the Catalog locally. When I select an image and enter the “Develop” mode, the loading of the full-size image is speedy. Once the image is loaded, applying global or even local changes through masks or brushes is absolutely instantaneous, with no delays between action and applied effect!
To demonstrate this, I created a very short video.
I’m writing the conclusions of this article over two months after the start of my adventure with the Synology NAS, not by chance, but because I wanted to truly test the DS923+ in every condition, being a significant modification to my usual workflow.
From the first day of use, one thing was clear right away: the complexity of configuring and using a NAS is undoubtedly a myth if you choose Synology as the solution.
The hardware installation took only a few minutes, and all the software was configured in less than half an hour. What took the most time was physically moving my photo archive from the MacBook Pro to the NAS!
Managing the NAS is truly intuitive thanks to the Synology DiskStation Manager (DSM), which provides the health status of our installed hard drives at any moment and allows the installation of customized packages (applications) based on our needs.
Thanks to the installation of the SSD cache and the upgrade of the network card to 10 GbE, moving and working on my archive does not experience slowdowns significant enough to be a disturbance or require me to modify my workflow.
In short, after months of use, I can confidently say that I am happy to have decided to switch to NAS management for my photo archive, both for the organization of images and for security. I highly recommend considering this solution if you are still tied to the traditional storage of your precious images.
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