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How to take a good supermoon photo

May's "super flower moon" is almost here and everyone's had that feeling. Looking up at a moon that looks like it can't be real. You take your phone out and snap a photo. And it just looks like a little blob. That's because moon photography is hard.

We'll get to see the last full supermoon of the year on May 7. This one's dubbed the "super flower moon" and if April's "super pink moon" was any indication, it should be a real barn burner. 

Last month, I went up to my roof with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, iPhone 11 Pro and my first ever DSLR, the Canon EOS 60D to see if I could capture the pink moon in all its glory. Watch the full experiment here:

With just a few easy adjustments you can really enhance your moon photography. 

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The day after the Pink Moon. Taken with my first ever DSLR, the Canon 60D with an 18-200mm lens.

Nic Henry/CNET

Start early

If your moonrise allows it, you should try to snap a photo of the moon as early in the day as you can, especially if you only have a phone. Despite the quick evolution of phone cameras over the last few years, they still struggle with contrast as high a bright moon and a dark sky. Use the twilight to your advantage and take some of the load off of the phone.

For details about when and where your moon will show up, along with just about everything else in space, Night Sky for iOS and Sky Map for Android are great free apps.

No hands

When capturing something as far away as the moon, any little nudge to your camera can completely ruin the photo. If you don't have a tripod, prop the phone against a book or your beer or anything that's not your hand.

In the same vein, use a timer. Nearly every phone and DSLR have a built-in timer so you're not bumping the camera when you're pressing the shutter button. You might also be able to set up a voice assistant to snap the photo for you. And if you have a remote, even better. 

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The moon as seen through the S20 Ultra's pro mode. Two seconds to go.

Nic Henry/CNET

Lower your exposure

If you're using a phone, you're going to want to tap the moon and drag that exposure slider down probably as far is it can go if you want any chance at seeing detail in the moon's face.

If you're using a DSLR, bring the ISO down to something around 200. This will bring the overall noise down. Then bring your f/stop up to lengthen your depth-of-field and have a better chance of getting the moon in focus. Then for your shutter, don't leave it open long enough to turn the moon into a bright, blurry orb.

These settings worked for my moon: ISO 200, f5.6, 1/250 shutter.

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Details in the moon often arrive at the expense of blacking out your cityscape. 

Nic Henry/CNET

Turn night mode off

Night mode is a great thing. And I am constantly impressed with the kinds of photos phones can take in low light these days. But when trying to capture details in a bright moon, you're going to want to disable the feature.

When night mode is on, it lets as much light in as it thinks is necessary, and will most likely always blow out the brightest thing in the frame, which in this case, will be the moon.

Shoot high res

If you're able to, shoot in raw or another high-res photo format so you can edit them later. The latest crop of Samsung phones make it easy with a Save raw copy toggle in the camera settings (although I discovered it does not work with the telephoto lens). 

For iPhone ($600 at Best Buy), you'll have to get a third-party app. Although I wish it was a feature in the native camera app, I tried ProCam ($5.99, £5.99, AU$9.99) and it was pretty straightforward, gave me more control and got me some decent shots.

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Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra vs. iPhone 11 Pro vs. DSLR

With more than a couple phones adding the word "Pro" to their name or camera setting, I wanted to pit these phones against my first ever DSLR, the Canon 60D (equipped with a 18-200mm lens).

So for April's Super Pink Moon, and with the above tips in mind, I went up to my roof equipped with a Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, iPhone 11 Pro and the 60D. Watch the full video embedded above.

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My three cameras, waiting for the moon to show.

Nic Henry/CNET

After a nasty run-in with a "death cloud" that ruined the actual Pink Moon for me, the next night provided an even more amazing moon. The thing was bright orange and rose slowly over the horizon like a giant eyeball. 

My "Doomsday Moon" as seen through the Galaxy S20 Ultra

Nic Henry/CNET

This is my favorite shot, captured with the 60D just a few minutes after the moon showed itself.  

I feel like this could be an album cover in 1975. Definitely my vibe.

Nic Henry/CNET

In the end, the DSLR completely blew the phones out of the water. With every camera control at my fingertips, I could try different things quickly until I got what I wanted. I also had an immense amount of control available in Lightroom to edit my photos the next day. 

The phones struggled keeping everything intact when trying to find detail in the moon's face. The S20 Ultra gave me much more to work worth than the iPhone, by far, but also added a lot of noise to the scene and made the moon this weird salami-looking thing.

Salami aside, the balance between the scene and the details in the moon is impressive for a phone without any additional hardware.

Nic Henry/CNET

I was especially excited to test out the Galaxy S20 Ultra's 100x Space Zoom. I regret to inform you that after about a thousand tries, this was the best I got:

Moon or... egg? Space Zoom is not for space.

Nic Henry/CNET

Space Zoom tries very, very hard to add exposure to the image when it's zoomed in that close. So much so that it was nearly impossible to bring it down at all. I discovered a trick where I could bring it down when the moon wasn't taking up most of the frame, and then lock the exposure, and then pan over to get the full egg.

Read moreSpotting the International Space Station with the Galaxy S20 Ultra

Here is the Ultra's 30x zoom at work. It's slightly better, still not great.

At 30x, a giant cheeseball.

Nic Henry/CNET

The iPhone 11 Pro struggled more overall, although it did have the disadvantage of going second when the moon was higher and brighter in the sky. I actually thought it captured the cityscape better, with less noise than the S20 Ultra, but it really had a hard time bringing the exposure of the moon down. 

iPhone 11 Pro at 2x and just a white circle.

Nic Henry/CNET

Here it is with some "craters," which was the most I got them to show in the native camera app. Taken at 10x digital zoom. You can hardly tell what you're looking at.

Sort of look likes a watercolor.

Nic Henry/CNET

I also took some photos using this Bostionye 22x telephoto add-on lens, which I got on Amazon as part of a kit for about $40. It was definitely awkward to use, and hard to apply just right, but it got me my best photos on both phones. 

Here they are, respectively:

Taken on the S20 Ultra at 5x with the add-on lens. I'll take responsibility for the blurriness. 

Nic Henry/CNET

Taken with the iPhone 11 Pro in the ProCam app with the add-on lens.

Nic Henry/CNET

The Stanley Kubrick in me felt joy the next morning when I found I had captured this photo:

We are so small.

Nic Henry/CNET

This was taken with the iPhone in the ProCam app without the add-on lens. It's not something you'd be going for at all in this situation, but I still just like the photo. It makes me feel some type of way. Like I'm stuck in the void.

The next full moon is another super moon, dubbed the Flower Moon this time, and arrives on May 7. You can bet I'll be up on the roof again, although this time I might just take my trusty old DSLR and leave the phones behind.

In case you missed it, watch the full experiment in the video above.