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LED Flashlight photography: How to make an Ice Light

LED technology is currently developing at a rapid rate and in this article we look at how you can utilize the latest LED technology to light your images until the photographic lighting industry catches up. See how for under £20 you can make a portable, rechargeable light that can produce results like this in a totally dark room:

LED Flashlight Photography @ www.Lightism.co.uk

LED’s are light emitting diodes and they are very efficient at converting power into light. Sure, they’ve been around for a while and are now utilized in a range of Photographic lights and torches.
However, manufacturer CREE are currently leading the LED lighting revolution and their distinctive yellow XM-L LED is now widely available in a range of budget flashlights on Amazon and they’re brightness is game changing!

I recently purchased a Ultrafire torch from Amazon with two rechargeable batteries and charger for about £17.
Sure, one of the batteries is poor and it doesn’t pump out the claimed 900 lumen, but this thing is brutally bright and has real potential.

LED Flashlight Photography @ www.Lightism.co.uk

Let’s be clear…from a photography perspective, it’s too bright and harsh to shine directly at anything or anybody. So, you need to use a lighting modifier to defuse it or use it in conjunction with a reflector.

If you’re a regular Lightism subscriber, you’ll recall I recently made a light from plumbers pipe and glowsticks for another article. Well, if you constructed one yourself what you’ve already made is an exact fit for the LED Flashlight, so you need to do, well, nothing!

For new readers:  you’ll need:

1 x Ultrafire flashlight or torch (as we call them in England.)
1 x 32” length of 1.5” white plumbing pipe: £2
1 x white pluming pipe end cap: £1
1 x tie wraps (ideally clear): £1

A saw, a drill, tinfoil, small sheet of sand paper (to smooth any rough edges) and a pair of scissors.

Tip:  Test the pipe with the torch before you buy it as some varieties are rather pink once lit!

Step 1:
Measure 11” from either end of the 32” length of pipe and cut halfway through the pipe with a saw.

Step 2:

Now cut the pipe down its width from the end nearest your cut, effectively removing a slice of pipe.

Step 3:
Pop the flashlight snugly into the new opening. You can either simply hold it in place to use it now or fix it into place with the tie wraps.

LED Flashlight Photography @ www.Lightism.co.uk

Step 4:
The end cap is the same diameter as the pipe, so if you cut four small slices out if cap be forced into the pipe. (see picture below)

Before fitting it to the pipe, screw up a ball of tinfoil and place it in the end far of pipe to act as a reflector (I tried various things including mirrors) and force on end cap.


Step 5:
You can also fit a length of thick black tape to the rear of the pipe to reflect the light forward.

That’s it, now you’ve made  a £20 version of Westcott’s £500 Ice Light!… Either that or some may say a  light saber.

LED Flashlight Photography @ www.Lightism.co.uk

Usage Tips:

Use it close to the subject and experiment with the angles; I like it above the model.

The sweet spot as usual is on the very edge of the light, so small adjustments make all the difference. Here’s the wider shot of the picture above in which you can see the model is holding the light and acting as a voice controlled lighting stand.

LED Flashlight Photography @ www.Lightism.co.uk


The second option is to use it in conjunction with a silver or white reflector.  This requires much more experimentation with distances and angles to get anything meaningful. To save you the effort, I will show you a couple of fool proof setups in my forth coming 30 second portraits series, so subscribe below or like Lightism on Facebook to keep up to date.

Click here for opportunities to get involved with Lightism


Foot Note:

Here’s a quick summery of answers to various comments made here and on various blogs where this has kindly been re-posted.

The light really is quite bright. The photo of the girl was shot in total darkness except this light to give you a feel for the actually quality of the light; normally it would be used as a fill with some ambient light. The light is some 10” away from her face (looks much closer in the photo) & its position was a creative choice.

I forgot to mention that I stuck a strip of tinfoil under the black gaffer tape on the rear to help reflect light.  I used plumber’s pipe from UK chain Wickes, some pipes from B&Q had a nasty pink glow.

Many people commented on the color temperature issue and in previous articles where I’ve used LED lights I have recommended downloading a free color temperature app and measuring it. However, the Cree LED is a new generation of LED which doesn’t suffer from the same color issues, so try one because whatever you thought you knew about LED may well have changed!


A HUGE thanks to the 113,621 of you who read this article in the first week!!



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28 comments to “LED Flashlight photography: How to make an Ice Light”

  • scott, April 3, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Brilliant idea! Looks like the light you sugest uses something that looks like a AA battery but doesn’t appear to be. Do you have any recommendations for a similar light that uses AA batteries?


    • lightism, April 3, 2013 at 8:54 pm

      The reason it is so bright is that it uses 3.7v li-ion batteries

  • Eduardo Mueses, April 3, 2013 at 8:43 pm


    Would it be better to put a piece of black gaffer tape on the back of it, to direct as much of the light forward mimicking the way icelight is configured?

    I’m going to try this one as I have that same exact torch!!

    • lightism, April 3, 2013 at 8:52 pm

      Hi, yes that’s what I suggest in the article…does make a difference and stops the light spilling everywhere

  • photoburner, April 4, 2013 at 12:18 am

    Over here in the US that ‘plumbers pipe’ would be called sch (schedule) 1120 pvc pipe. The pipe you would find in most hardware stores is sch 40 and the walls are much thicker. The sch 1120 is irrigation pipe. I just tried it out with my 400 lumen flashlight (works on C cells) and with the sch light barely leaks thru. I found a piece of 1.5 inch sch 1120 and it is much brighter, and would be more so with a 900 lumen light. I’m guessing that even with the brighter light this will still be on the dim side, more like a glow stick.

    The lights with 2 batteries and a charger are $22 off Amazon US.

    • lightism, April 4, 2013 at 12:08 pm

      Useful info thanks.

    • mistermonkstrap, April 9, 2013 at 6:50 am

      This guy totally has a point. Your average PVC pipe as found here in the US is way, way too thick. We have to find out exactly what kind of PVC, in America, that is as thin as the pipe used in this DIY project. Hey Photoburner, is sch1120 as bright as above? or is not really. It wasn’t clear to me.

      The other modification that occurs to me is, if you use thick PVC, cut it in half length-wise then wrap once or twice with diffusion. It’s more Gerry rigged but would get the same effect.

    • Chris, April 9, 2013 at 6:42 pm

      Where did you find the 1120 pvc pipe?

  • Mike, April 8, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    Love how you came up with this. I applaud your ingenuity 🙂

    • lightism, April 9, 2013 at 8:05 am

      Thanks, please do subscribe and I’ll show you lots of simple lighting setups with this and many other ideas.

  • Brian, April 9, 2013 at 3:01 am

    Black tape absorbs light, it can’t reflect it..

    If you want to get the effect you think is happening with the black tape then use foil on the back…

    I would have thought photographers would have understood black absorbs light.

    • lightism, April 9, 2013 at 8:03 am

      Good point, I did put foil behind the tape, but forgot to include the fact in the article. Will update it thanks.

  • Brandon, April 9, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Does anyone in the US have a source for this thinner PVC pipe? I can’t seem to find any through google, and sure enough the local hardware stores don’t have it.

  • Iggiez, April 9, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    can you photograph the pipe, to show us how thin it is ? because i find that with regular white plumbing pipe… its too thick.. 🙁

  • Joe, April 10, 2013 at 12:32 am

    this is the thin pvc you can get in the us but I don’t think ive ever seen it longer then 20inches maybe a plumbing supply house?


  • Ben, April 10, 2013 at 6:49 am

    I’m also not finding the pipe, I suspect because it doesn’t meet the codes in the US. If someone finds a source for it, it would be really helpful. Also, can you use regular aa batteries or are the lithium 3.7 v batteries suggested?

  • RC, April 10, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    what if there were a torch light at both ends, instead of the end cap at one. the light doubles?

    • lightism, April 10, 2013 at 8:45 pm

      You’ve read my mind…have ordered a second torch, so watch this space! Si

  • Andrew, April 10, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Great post! Question: Have you tested this with video? I’d like to try this, but I’m concerned about flicker.

    • Jarrod, April 10, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      There shouldn’t be any flicker in video due to the DC current. You only have to worry about flicker when you are using AC.

      • Andrew, April 10, 2013 at 9:46 pm

        Thanks for the clarification. Learn something new every day. Ultrafire ordered.

  • David Albee, April 10, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Didn’t read other comments before posting my alternative flashlight/torch find: did a google search for “pvc pipe wall thickness” after I did, and found http://flexpvc.com/PVCPipeSize.shtml. Looks like Class 200 Thin Wall PVC is what we want, and they sell any length 6″ to 7′ in 1″ increments at US$1.24/foot+shipping for 1.5″ diameter.

    • Colleen, April 13, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      So the point IS to shine the closed off side at the subject, and not the open side? Like the side that is open DOES point away from the subject?

      • lightism, April 13, 2013 at 5:33 pm

        Hi Colleen, from the bulb end of the torch, the tube is complete. The cut out is only to insert the flashlight…does that make sense? Si

  • Yang, April 18, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Great Creative !Looks well.

    • lightism, April 18, 2013 at 12:06 pm

      Thanks, Si

  • Sam, April 22, 2013 at 1:11 am

    Saw this linked from DIY Photography…

    Maybe try this with the CLEAR PVC? Then you’ve got 360 degrees of light.

    Use a piece of wax paper or something (inside or out) to disperse the light. Or you can just cover with paper or tape to get whatever shape of light you want.

    • lightism, April 22, 2013 at 10:30 am

      Currently experimenting and will keep you posted. Si