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Photography

App Developer Calvin Carter Shoots the Stars

The Bottle Rocket founder connects with celestial bodies and their formation in the galaxy through astrophotography.
By | |Photography Courtesy of Calvin Carter
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App Developer Calvin Carter Shoots the Stars

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Calvin Carter Courtesy of Company

Calvin Carter stumbled across astrophotography five years ago while surfing YouTube. “I saw a video of an amateur astronomer, and he was talking about how he had connected his camera up to the scope,” Carter says. The founder of Addison-based app developer Bottle Rocket had a telescope to observe celestial bodies but wanted to do more. Several equipment upgrades later, he now regularly shoots the stars from his lake house in Cedar Creek, which doesn’t have as much light pollution as Dallas.

The same things he enjoys about technology, Carter says, are what have drawn him into his new hobby—addressing challenges, hardware innovations, gadgets, and continuous optimization over time. “Astrophotography gives you an unlimited runway to do all those things,” he says. The process of creating an image can take weeks (see sidebar), but the final product is worth it. “You get rewarded with this beautiful image,” Carter says.

About four or five times a year, Carter drives his RV to meet up with fellow astrophotographers in West Texas and Oklahoma for star parties—events where astronomy lovers observe or shoot celestial bodies over several nights. Attendees range from amateurs with simple telescopes to Cern Supercollider employees. “We come from all over, and everyone is a total geek about this stuff,” Carter says. He especially enjoys shooting nebulae, collections of gas and dust that are remnants of a Supernova explosion or the Big Bang that are being pulled together by gravity to form a new object. “When I’m looking at a nebula, I’m essentially seeing the place in our galaxy where new stars are being formed,” he says. 

Mastering Minutia

The Process

Astrophotography is a complicated endeavor. In essence, photographers start by leveling their telescopes, aligning them with polar north, and orienting them toward specific coordinates, a process called “slewing.” The cameras are set to only take in a pre-determined number of light photons. Photographers shoot hundreds of images of the same object over several hours or evenings. They calibrate the camera by taking photos with the lens cap on (to capture pure black) and at sunrise (to capture a dim sky). This helps software weed out imperfections. Multiple images are layered on top of each other, and tech is used to remove things such as gradient left by the moon.

As Carter’s knowledge of astrophotography and its technologies evolves, he often reshoots nebulae, in addition to capturing new celestial objects, to see his improvement.  He is planning to upgrade his equipment to the same quality used by the government and universities and, next year, he’ll also begin selling limited-edition prints of his photos, with proceeds going to children’s outreach programs “to get kids to start looking up and asking what is out there.” 

“When I photograph the night sky, it feels like time slows down,” Carter says. “Getting to know the vast beauty of the universe around me has given me more perspective, peace, and hope for humanity. If what I see through my telescope is possible, then anything is possible.”

Author

Kelsey Vanderschoot

Kelsey Vanderschoot

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Kelsey J. Vanderschoot came to Dallas by way of Napa, Los Angeles, and Madrid, Spain. A former teacher, she joined…

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