Fight with Light

A line of thinking in the tactical community is that using white light in the dark under very stressful conditions can be as much of a negative as a positive. It can give your position away as well as be used as a point of aim for the opposing force. The other view is that the use of high-intensity light is more of a force multiplier than a reduction in action and ability, i.e., fight with light.

Start thinking that the positives of fighting with bright light outweigh the negatives, especially now that the bad guys are now using lights, too. Take another look at fighting with light—the light intensity has changed that much.

The technology has existed for quite some time to use intense light as a level of concealment, and not only in the dark but also in both low-light and well-lit scenarios. In a high-stress situation, we train to shoot and move to either concealment or cover. With high-yield illumination, we can have concealment as fast as hitting a switch.

A high-intensity light system will give us concealment in three ways: 1) the level of bright white light in either strobe or constant-on puts a corona of light around us, which gives no physical signature to our opposing force; 2) the level of bright white light in the dark will cause an uncontrolled response by the opposing force that will make him turn his head, which will move his shoulder and pull the shot off target; and 3) the use of a high-intensity strobe will slow his ability down to function. Consider what really happens to your ability while trying to fight in low light; what your eyes do when in the dark and then when exposed to intense light.


Eyes and Dark Conditions

There are 6 million cone receptors per eye, and they are all located in the small area of the macula. The cones see detail, depth perception and color. There are 120 million rods per eye evenly distributed over the retina. The rods are used for shape/outline, movement, direction and speed. It takes about 30 minutes

for your eyes to adapt from bright white light to very dark conditions and about three minutes

to adapt from very dark conditions to bright light.

Under just low light, you will lose the ability to distinguish colors and the ability to accurately estimate distances (depth perception). You also lose the ability to see detail. For example, a 20/20 vision degrades to 20/200 or worse, the definition of legally blind. To make a positive threat identification, you need everything you lose under reduced light conditions: 1) detail vision for what is in the hands; 2) depth perception for how far away they are; 3) color for the subject and clothing description; and 4) balance / coordination.

In complete darkness, you will develop a blind spot directly in the center of your vision. This is where the cone receptors are and they need a minimum amount of light to function. Since 80 percent of all information that the brain receives comes through the eyes, you will have a very difficult time retaining balance and coordination, especially the eye/hand coordination necessary to shoot.

When high stress and the involuntary adrenaline dump is added to the low light, your vision is the first part of your body affected. The pupils open to maximum dilation. Both eyes’ lenses will flatten through your ciliary muscle contraction, which will not allow you to focus on anything but the perceived threat. Both eyes will be wide open. What we lose when working in the dark without illumination places us at a very distinct disadvantage.

If we have lost the ability to see the level of threat, how do we know this is the threat we have trained to fight against, and not an unarmed individual in the wrong place at the wrong time? We need to have a tool in our hands that can clearly identify our potential threat and at the same time briefly disable him, or even better, create a response that will disarm him.


Beams Types

A problem with using high-intensity light is it can self-blind the user/team along with the attacker. However, with the new LEDs and specific bezel styles, you can develop controllable light signatures with immediate and powerful consequences.

Several beam types are offered: 1) single spotlight, i.e., a single beam of concentrated light; 2) flood light, i.e., light that is not focused or separated with in its brightness levels; and 3) center spotlight, with a softer secondary corona. All have their place; however, in a high-stress environment, one that really stands out—the center spot with secondary corona. This beam can be used to control subjects without having bright light splashing back from reflective surfaces. The secondary corona is so low that if it does find reflective surface, it does not self-blind you or your partner.

With an intense spotlight and softer outer corona, you get a better peripheral throw. This allows you to see more, and it also disrupts those on the receiving end. This is far better than projecting a single spotlight that only gives position away and makes your illumination tool a search tool, instead of a debilitating use of force tool. The flood light is bright and gives you a lot of lateral coverage, but the brightest part of the light cannot be controlled and held to what is only in front of you.


Light Functions

Many police-oriented flashlights have a number of functions. These include: 1) momentary on, which is the capability to press the light on without going into constant on; 2) constant on, where the light says on so you can search or hold a pattern; and 3) program, which allows the light to come on at a default setting, for example, the first click is maximum brightness, the second click is dim, the third click is strobe.

Momentary illumination means depressing the pressure switch to activate the beam and then immediately releasing the switch to deactivate the beam. Since the human eye can focus an illuminated image in as little as milliseconds, a sufficient amount of illumination will be present for you to see. The objective is to illuminate an area much as you would in taking a picture with a camera to get a retinal imprint of what was illuminated. This method minimizes use of the flashlight and gives you a greater tactical advantage when used with movement.

Your retina functions the same way as a piece of film behind a camera lens. An object is temporarily “imprinted” on your retina for a second or two if the object was illuminated with sufficient intensity. This condition does not occur during daylight light levels, but is pronounced during reduced light when high-intensity flashlights are used.

You can become quite skilled at reading the retinal print by performing the following exercise. Have someone set up a series of totally dark rooms. Each room will be different in what it contains and each will be unknown to you. Using a high-intensity flashlight, open the door to a room, flash illuminate the area (one time), and pause to “read” the retinal imprint. You should be able to immediately sketch the room and everything in it.


Fighting Tactics

Using an intense, high lumen light for concealment in a constant-on or strobe can be highly effective.

Some of the tactics for fighting against light include using higher lumen light than your opponents and the discipline to not turn your head or close your eyes.

Your attackers may use reduced light to mask movements and get inside your reactionary gap. E

xpect multiple threats. It may not look like a direct frontal assault, but it may start with an innocuous distraction. Practice shooting with the light from different positions and from behind different shapes of cover.

Do not set up a pattern of lighting and moving, either by using the light in a predictable pattern, moving in a straight line, or illuminating at the same time intervals (every three seconds, for instance).


Distraction Methods

The most common among distraction methods is using a strobe. This disorients anyone in the area who may look in your direction. If working with a partner, using the strobe function can confuse potential threats as they are unaware of the exact number or location. Depending on the lumen signature, it can replicate muzzle flash. If the strobe rate is 3–4 flashes per second, then when engaging threat and moving while firing, the threat will see where you were and not where you are.

Strobe capabilities can give you enough concealment to move away from threat and duck into a safe place or even allow you to advance to attack. In fact, use the strobe function for any movement regarding concealment and attack. The strobe will remove the attacker’s ability to gauge depth.

Strobe effects on the brain:

First, our brains are configured to respond to fluid, smooth, regular images and depictions better than jerky, interrupted, corrugated images. The visual cortex in the brain processes each image it receives from the eye to the optic nerve to the visual cortex to the Reticular Activating System, then flows through the recognition portion for processing and to help direct response. We traditionally process images at a certain pace and this is the reason that images appearing on a movie theater screen seem to be continuous and flowing and not individual frames in succession. 

Our eyes refocus images 15–20 times a second, changing image color from black to white in the same timeframe. This is another reason why strobe is so effective. Our eyes are trying to focus and identify the object involuntarily; you have no control over this action. Humans often squint their eyes or even turn their heads away or close their eyes momentarily. 

Some individuals state they have a sense of temporary disorientation or “slowed response” after being exposed to direct strobe stimulation. Even at a minimum, being exposed directly to a strobe, after being in a dark environment where the eye pupils have dilated to allow maximum light to reach the retina, then the strobe maximally striking the retina essentially unfiltered, can cause a moment of eye discomfort, watering, and difficulty focusing. All these things add up to a strobe being a useful, direct, and legal means for tactical operations to gain a moment of weakened defenses and increase vulnerability for apprehension. 


The Effects of Stress

Realize that you have no control over the involuntary adrenaline dump into your blood stream. But you can train under realistic conditions and learn to function under the effects of the adrenaline dump. Here are some of the more probable effects. You may or may not experience them all, depending on your training and the situation.

Tunnel vision is one of the realities of stress. The r

ecommended response, after dealing with the most immediate threat, is to force yourself to scan 360 degrees to physically break out of the mental tunnel vision. Also expect the t

emporary loss o

f hearing. This “auditory exclusion” makes it difficult to communicate with your team members or partner. A touch or a bump may alert your partner under auditory exclusion that you are trying to talk to them.

Muscular tightening and clenching is a common reaction. This is the tendency to squat in place, “take root” and try to “duke it out” in one place. That will affect the large muscle groups while the better known loss of fine motor skills and coordination

(fumbling with the handgun, magazine) will affect the smaller muscle groups. Big, clunky switches are easier to manipulate under stress than small, fine switches.


istorted recall is also an after-effect of high stress. Your mind will automatically reconstruct what your brain perceived in a way that makes sense to your mind. Of course, it may not be how things actually happened, which makes statements made immediately after stressful situations (like officer involved shootings) a real legal issue.



Your mindset is probably your greatest tool. It costs nothing, but does require self-discipline to develop and use. The proper mindset includes many factors. First, situational awareness. Be aware of everything.


We tend to focus on our vision and downplay the other senses. Hearing, touch, even smell can give you important cues about your environment. Scan everything and everyone within your perceptive capabilities.

Second, a proper mindset is a positive mindset. Decide well in advance that if a situation degrades to an elevated use of force, you will “win” by protecting yourself. Often individuals “pre-load” themselves for failure by not committing mentally to winning. Remember, you cannot protect anyone if you are taken out of the fight.

Third, common s


and good judgment are a part of the proper mindset. Your job is to protect yourself and others. Don’t let ego, pride, preconceived notions of what a good guy is and does keep you from accomplishing this goal. Often, small subtle actions will signal to a subject that they have been identified and now they have to react and change their plan.

Finally, don’t underestimate he threat. Recent history has shown us that threats are intelligent, patient, and will plan and position to accomplish their goals. Assume that the subject is at least as intelligent and determined and motivated as you are. Many bad guys have been in prison where they learn and practice new tactics. Using light against us is one of them. That makes our ability to aggressively use high-intensity light all the more important.


Charles Donaldson is an SRT/SWAT member for the White County, Tenn.’s Sheriff’s Department. He is also an advanced low-light firearms instructor and owner/operator of TACT-OUT Industries. He can be reached at

Published in Tactical Response, Jul/Aug 2014

Rating : 6.0

Related Products



Fight with Light

Posted on : Sep 18 at 9:58 PM By Charles Donaldson

Excellent article! Gives a new prospective on use of a high powered flashlight.

Would like to see more articles by Mr. Donaldson.

Related Companies

Close ...