CdS nanorods along with nanostrips and plates have been prepared on a large scale by the solvothermal route using the precursor cadmium oxalate under mild conditions with ethylene glycol as the solvent and (NH4)2S as the sulfiding agent, without using catalysts, surfactants or template. The aspect ratio of the rods varied from 3 to 30. Characterization has been done by TEM, HR-TEM, EDX, HR-SEM, XRD, BET surface area, UV-vis absorption, photoluminescence and fluorescence studies. Photo-catalytic H2 production activity was tested with as-synthesized CdS, calcined CdS, noble metal loaded CdS and for bulk CdS. The nanorods being formed are used as such for H2 production. The as-synthesized CdS is found to have very good H2 production capacity compared to that of the bulk CdS. Upon Pt loading much enhanced activity was observed in the rate of hydrogen production. © 2000 IOP Publishing Ltd.