Found: $30 LED Modeling Light for Your AlienBees

When the Elinchrom Ranger Quadras came out a couple of years ago, one of their groundbreaking features was the inclusion of a low-drain, LED modeling lamp.

Pure genius. Especially since traditional modeling lights usually drain your batts faster than the flash itself does.

And if you are an AlienBees/Vagabond user, now you can get this same cool tech on the cheap.

The idea is simple: LEDs use less than 1/10th as much current per lumen output as do traditional modeling lights. As a result, when using a battery pack the modeling light usage can kick total flash pop capacity in the groin.

But as long as you do not need a ton of light, there is a way for you AB/Vagabond users to have your cake and eat it, too.

A little backstory. We have been working towards self sufficiency with our energy use in our home ever since move-in day. We went solar last year, and have also been whittling away at the amount of energy we actually consume.

We went all-CFL a ways back. But for the outside lights which run all night, it made sense to make the jump to LEDs. My search led me to LEDtronics, from whom we bought seven LED outdoor bulbs.

They weren't cheap, but they also use a total of 19.6 watts -- for all seven outdoor bulbs. It is pretty awesome, really, and we have been very happy with them. Payback comes after a couple of years, but that does not count the satisfaction I get from the sheer cool factor of having LED outside lighting. Just kinda neat.

And on a lark, I tried one of the bulbs in an AB1600, and it fit inside the flash tube perfectly. It is a 35-watt equiv. bulb, that uses 2.8 watts of power. Less lumens than the standard modeling lights, to be sure. But these are not for typical use.

For those of you who use AB's and Vagabonds, and need enough modeling light to focus by for, say, post-sunset portraits, they are perfect. You can just let them burn full-time, with almost no noticeable drain on your battery.

Heck, when the power goes out, you would have light in your house for many days, too, with an LED/Vagabond combo. Just skip the AB and run it in a normal table lamp.

Come to think of it, when you are not using them for an evening battery shoot, they can replace a 40-watt incandescent bulb in your house -- and save you 37.2 watts of power in the process. So if you ever use ABs in that way, it seems like a no-brainer.

There are three versions of the bulb: Clear, frosted and milky. (Clear is shown just above, so you can see the guts.) The trade-off is light unification vs. output. Clear gives you more light, but you might see the 27 surface mount LED emitters as multiple sources in the light bulb. I went with frosted, and have been happy.

One note: I do not think these are designed to be dimmed. So leave your model tracking switch set to "off" on the AB's when using them.

LEDtronics has a gazillion kinds of LED bulbs for just about any use. But the $29.95 versions that fit the AB's perfectly (in three flavors) are here.


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Blogger said...

Wow, THAT's Cool! By chance, do you happen to know if the Einsteins and AB's share the same modeling light fixture?? Fed Ex is holding our Einsteins hostage at the moment but would dig it if they were the same. Cool fix!

February 17, 2011 1:45 AM  
Blogger David said...

Alas, Einstein uses a different modeling light. But there are a boatload of ABs out in the field already.

And besides, you have so much fricken' tech in that Einstein, you do not get to complain about the lack of an LED modeling light.


February 17, 2011 1:49 AM  
Blogger larryleungcal said...

If you do this I'd definitely go with the frosted or milky. I've been messing with LED's lately and I've read that staring at a bare high power LED could cause potential eye damage. It was compared to a class 2 laser due high light emission over a small area.

Not sure if that's true in this case but in my experience it's definitely more uncomfortable looking at a bare LED than a bare incandescent bulb of similar rating.

February 17, 2011 2:14 AM  
Blogger Geoff said...

More of a comment on LED bulbs - take a look at They have loads of LED bulbs. Just be careful - there are some that seem to be lemons. They are cheap though!

February 17, 2011 4:50 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

Great tip, I'll search for those in the UK.

But outside lights on all night? Holy light pollution bat man, how about passive IR movement sensors if it is a security issue? What am I missing here?

February 17, 2011 4:53 AM  
Blogger Sheri said...

thank you SO much for sharing this information and I didn't think about using the vagabond to power a light if the power was out :)

February 17, 2011 6:21 AM  
Blogger Geoff said...

More a comment on LED light bulbs: take a look on They have quite a selection and relatively cheap. Just make sure you only buy products that have favourable reviews, as there appear to be a couple of lemons.

February 17, 2011 6:42 AM  
Blogger Styria said...

Why run outside lights all night? Just shutting them off would save even more power.

February 17, 2011 7:17 AM  
Blogger Puck said...

Oooh I wonder about white lightning X series... if bot for the enegy savings, then for the life of the bulb....

But working with a team of people with varying levels of experience, I also wonder if these are more or less sturdy than incandescents... can they take a beating?

February 17, 2011 7:29 AM  
Blogger LudaChris said...

Have been thinking of doing the same with my outside lights. How is the color temp? Are they cold or warm? I'm not a big fan of those very cold Xmas led lights I'm starting to see, so I wouldn't want the burning all night at my place.

February 17, 2011 8:02 AM  
Blogger Joey B said...

This is brilliant, thanks for the post (and the experimenting!)

February 17, 2011 8:08 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Excellent find! I've wondered about a work around of some sort to allow the use of modeling lights. You nailed it.

February 17, 2011 9:27 AM  
Blogger David said...


I have been using them outside for months, and experience no discomfort when looking at them.


I said the same thing to my electrician, who wisely replied: Great. Are they UL approved? Made me think.

@Ian and Styria-

We live on a cul de sac that has no street lighting. So all of the neighbors pitch in with external lighting. Using LEDs it cost about $1 a month. The place is just littered with deer, so IRs would be switching on and off, all of the time.

I suppose we could just go all dark. But that would really not be fair to the intruders -- them unable to see, and us waiting in the bushes with a .40 cal and a pair of NVGs...

Lighting seemed like the decent thing to do.


Definitely more bump-worthy than an incandescent.


You can choose your color temperature. I really like the "halogen white" ones, which feel a lot like incandescents.

February 17, 2011 9:55 AM  
Blogger Paul Bennett said...

may I ask the embodied energy payback period of these units?

February 17, 2011 10:25 AM  
Blogger David said...


Well, they cost $30. They use 2.8w of power, compared to a 35w incandescent.

They math to figure payback period os pretty straightforward, but only you can plug in the remaining two factors: how many hours/day you will use them, plus your all-in energy costs.

February 17, 2011 11:02 AM  
Blogger eGencer said...

This is excellent! Thanks for the post

February 17, 2011 12:07 PM  
Blogger MortonPhotographic said...

Great post, and perfect timing! I need one of my ABs is without a modelinglight and I don'tlike the traditional household bulbs anyway. They are too delicate.

Do the LEDS seem stronger than a normal lightbulb?

They probably last a lot longe too I would assume.

February 17, 2011 1:10 PM  
Blogger CalgaryAndy said...

Another option to look at are the Pharox LED bulbs from Lemnis Lighting. They are about twice as powerful (equivalent to a 60W incandescent, sell for about $24,95 each and are dimmable. Not sure if their dimensions will fit within the AB flash though.

February 17, 2011 2:05 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

That's very cool. Pity we don't have AB's over here in the UK.

But we can have our cake and eat it! lol(Which is the correct saying)

February 17, 2011 2:19 PM  
Blogger Aaron Lavinsky said...

What a brilliant idea. I generally leave my modelling lamps out of my Alien Bees as I'm always worried about accidentally bumping the on switch and killing my batteries while on location. Now I'm actually tempted to begin using it to speed up the lighting process!

The only thing that I'm worried about is the low output that LED fixtures generally have. If I'm lighting through a softbox, I can't imagine that this light will actually have any throw whatsoever.

I'll probably end up picking one up, but it will probably end up staying in my lighting case most of the time because I rarely shoot using direct light

-Aaron Lavinsky

February 17, 2011 2:22 PM  
Blogger Marko said...

@ Richard - Umm Yes you do have them in the UK, Prices seem to be in Sterling as well.

February 17, 2011 5:57 PM  
Blogger Villanueva & Stone said...

Hi David,

My partner has a blog that talks about fashion lighting using fashion techniques for strobes adapted to Lumo Pros LP160s capabilities.

She has examples of our photography to showcase the techniques. Is there any way we could somehow contribute to your blog with an emphasis on fashion lighting?

It would be nice to start a dialog about fashion lighting with speedlights as most people in the industry don't take it seriously, but the funny thing is we have clients who have no idea we use speedlights and just love the pictures.

Any feedback would be appreciated :).

This is the link -

Thanks for all the tips!

February 17, 2011 7:57 PM  
Blogger David Solo said...

"economy" is all very well David but, What kind of car or cars do you drive? It amazed me when I was your side of the pond that our driver thought that 30mpg was "GOOD" gas mileage... Meanwhile in the rest of the world 50MPG is the norm... Added to the fact that all CFL's are a future environmental nightmare, I'll stick to using my existing bulbs / car until its no longer viable and then go buy an electric car. the wasted energy and resources caused by people junking serviceable things just to jump on the "green bandwagon" makes me crazy. By alll means save the planet but don't throw the baby out with the bath water!

February 18, 2011 1:42 AM  
Blogger Vernon said...

I avoid using the modeling light unless the ambient lighting prevents my camera from focusing on the subject. I do not like having to wait for the unit to cool off after having the ML on throughout the shoot. And my light bill likes it.

February 18, 2011 4:54 AM  
Blogger rady said...

David, i just bought a pair of used Ab800 so this is great news to me. What to do in case the flash gets burned from usage? Can that also be replaced?

February 18, 2011 5:04 AM  
Blogger Terry Thomas... the photographer said...

When LED bulb manufacturers have:
* dimmable
* 150 Watt equivalent output
* will fit inside AB/WL flash tube

Then I will buy.

I've had 3 Alien Bees for over 5 years + 5 White Lightnings for 2 years and can not remember breaking a light bulb.

Tip: don't move any light fixture while it's illuminated as the filament is as delicate as fluff.

Terry Thomas...
the photographer
Atlanta, Georgia USA

February 18, 2011 8:17 AM  
Blogger Matt Carr said...

Just FYI, the bulbs are now $49.95... :-(

February 18, 2011 10:15 AM  
Blogger David said...

Huh? I am still getting 29.95, FWIW.

February 18, 2011 12:05 PM  
Blogger ryusen said...

I was looking for LED modeling lamps and i found that they are just too dim, especially if you use a softbox/umbrela wit the bees.

What i found worked better for me on my night shoots was a ~600 CFL put into a shop light. i pick up the shoplight at a hardware store for about $15. Rather than putting the bulb as the modeling lamp, i would just clip it to the light stand or get an assistant to hold it.

February 18, 2011 2:02 PM  
Blogger Matt Carr said...

Oops, you are correct sir, $29.95. Must have clicked another product.

February 18, 2011 3:18 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Do you know if these would work in an Elinchrom light, like the BXRi heads? They look like they would fit. Also, is it possible to buy higher wattage light bulbs for you heads, or will that be bad for the head? I'm thinking key light for video work.

February 18, 2011 5:37 PM  
Blogger Mark Higgins said...

Thanks for the information on the LEDs. I'm always looking to save battery power when in the field and using my Vagabond.

February 18, 2011 8:51 PM  
Blogger Bill Giles said...

I have had a few LED bulbs, but have not been happy with their length of service. In fact, most of the high efficiency bulbs, CFL or otherwise, don't seem to last as long as the manufacturers suggest that they will. The prices of CFL bulbs has come down from the stratosphere, but $30 is a lot of money to spend on a light bulb times 2 to 4 depending on the number of lights that you have. Do you have any experience with infant mortality on these bulbs?

February 19, 2011 8:02 AM  
Blogger Better Husband, Better Dad said...

David - WAAAY OT, but thought you need to see this group of images - this photographer is recreating old photos with the original subjects - and I thought of how difficult the lighting issues must be - try to reverse engineer these, it is not as simple as originally thought.

February 19, 2011 11:27 PM  
Blogger Jaromir said...

LED's luminous efficacy is the same as CCFL's and both can be dimmable as well.

February 20, 2011 1:34 PM  
Blogger TonyQuotz said...

Better still if Paul C. Buff and his team can incorporate this into their next design of the ABs. Best still if all Monolight makers does the same. Total win-win situation for everyone.

February 20, 2011 8:08 PM  
Blogger Steinhard said...

Best way to spend another 30$.
Thanks Sir.

February 21, 2011 3:42 AM  
Blogger John Perkins • Photographer said...

Hey David, I think you'll really digg what I found at Lowe's tonight. Feel free to re-hash this on here if you want.

Look forward to seeing you in Nashville.

February 23, 2011 8:00 PM  
Blogger John said...

This bulb looks a lot like one I just bought at Walmart for $5.97 or something. It has the smaller screw fitting, but comes with a standard household size adapter.

February 26, 2011 6:50 PM  
Blogger Tommy said...

Found the same LED bulb on eBay for $10,

March 03, 2011 2:58 AM  
Blogger Charles Flaum said...

Great post!

October 12, 2013 7:11 AM  

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