How to improve the focus on your smartphone camera

Having trouble getting your smartphone camera to focus properly for your LEGO photography? Here’s a tip you can try to get those nice, sharp images.

One of the challenges with legography is getting a sharp focus on your characters. Often, your smartphone’s auto-focus will struggle to get it right, especially with small objects – like LEGO minifgures!

The photo below was taken with an iPhone 5S without any edits. I’ve tried to get a good depth-of-field with a blurred background and foreground. I want to take you through a few steps to check your focus on an iPhone (depending on your camera app, it could work for Android users too).

1) Grab a smartphone tripod for working up close

As mentioned in “How to take better photos of LEGO with your smartphone” I recommend getting yourself a small tripod. The popularity of smartphone photography means there’s a lot out there at different price points. This will help you a lot.

2) Get your composition first

First, compose your photo the way you envision it. Keep in mind that if your phone is too close to your LEGO character, it won’t be able to focus no matter how hard you try (lenses have a minimum focal length). Here, I’ve used the Rule-of-Thirds grid to line up the character with the top left intersecting point.

2) Zoom and lock your focus

With the phone secure in place with the tripod, I can now zoom in to see if I’m in focus or not. The good thing about phones is that it’s fairly easy to focus where you want, just touch the screen. Because I want to focus on the robot’s face, I’ll tap in the top right.

Now, the trick here is to lock the focus by doing a long press on the screen. The long press will activate the auto-focus/auto-exposure lock (AE/AF Lock).

Once it’s locked in place, you can zoom back out.

3) Check your exposure

When you zoom back out, you can be confident that your photo is now in focus since the focus has been locked in. You’ll see the ‘AE/AF LOCK’ sign showing and an outline of a box where it was previous locked to when you zoomed in.

However, on default iPhone camera app, it will also lock the exposure. This means that when you zoom out, your photo may look over too bright or too dark. This is particularly the case if you’re taking photos of a really light (e.g. a Storm Trooper) or dark character (e.g. a Pirate Captain).

If this is the case for you, you can still adjust the exposure. Just move the ‘sun’ icon next to the AE/AF box up or down. It’s easier to do it now than after.

Once you’re happy, with it, hit that shutter button to take the photo!

4) Download a better camera app

If you’re still having trouble, you can try a different camera app. There are a good range of camera apps available which offer manual controls, including manual focus! They often come with other handy manual controls for things like shutter speed and exposure.

My go-to app has been Camera+ on the iPhone but there are plenty of other alternatives for both iPhone and Android.

Over to you…

Do you have any recommendations on getting better focus or camera app recommendations? Drop a comment below and let me know!

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