There are times in your life when you have to compromise – err from perfection to just getting it done. Lighting is often the first thing to go on a breaker. Face it – you can’t control light when chaos breaks out. So you can’t see the sniper – what cha gonna do? Pop out the 1K and spotlight him? I don’t think so. You’re close to a deadline and have to grab some sound bites – and there isn’t always time to pull out the light kit or even the umbrella and a single light. You go with the on-camera because there just isn’t time to do what you have to do any other way.
But there are some ways to make it a bit less of a compromise. On-camera light is like your car headlights – your subject is stuck in the headlights and looks it. The trick is to get the light away from the lens. If you’re not working with a stick mike (in which case you need a third arm) you can clip your lav onto the subject and then hold the on-cam light up and to one side so you have some depth. Or ask your reporter to do it. Don’t trust this to casual on-lookers cause they’ll aim the light all over the place. I used to have a crappy little Lowell light stand that was almost falling apart I’d carry and put my on-camera light atop if I had a few seconds.
The other (obvious unless your brain is burned out) advice is to find any light – street light, light from a store window, headlights – and use that. You can even use that kind of light for backlight and fill with your on-camera.
I will freely admit to being a thief – I used to steal other photogs’ light all the time. Out comes the perp or subject and we all turned on…but sometimes I’d leave mine off so someone else’s on-cam could become my high and to the side light – great shadows and mood.
Oh – and the sniper in the dark? Now there’s another compromise. If you know exactly where s/he is, aim your camera there and hope for a gunburst/flash of light. For the sure thing get reaction shots – people you can see. Roll, get the sound you need and reaction of others to that sound.
And now for some digression. Ever watched a broadcast live shot that pans from reporter to a window or scene as the reporter says something like, “behind that window is a man with a gun.” Well, that reporter is safely hidden behind the wall – but guess who head their head sticking out like a target? Don’t ask.