by Ruth Thaler-Carter
, RPCN Communications Committee
As an expert in the imaging arena and a native of Australia who grew up in England, Peter D. Burns combines a uniquely Rochester business focus with an international flair. His consulting business, Burns Digital Imaging LLC
, helps clients develop and improve their imaging products or services.
Burns came to Rochester in 1967 as a teenager when his father took an engineering job here. He attended Pittsford High School, and married a high-school classmate. He earned his PhD in imaging science at RIT and has stayed in Rochester because "my wife and I enjoy it here, and (like) the nearby Finger Lakes and Adirondacks regions," he said. "We have extended family in the area. I choose to - almost - never complain about the weather."
Here is a video interview with Peter Burns:
Burns worked for Xerox, Kodak and Carestream Health before going into consulting. "I have always been involved with the development and evaluation of imaging products and services," he said. He was able to launch his consulting business on a firm basis after being laid off at Carestream two years ago because "I had been doing consulting for museums for about 10 years while working in-house," he said. He also had worked in environments similar to a consulting business. "With applied science and engineering, experienced people often lead small teams and contribute as individual," he explained. "This is similar to the type of consulting I currently do."
He decided to form an LLC in November 2011. "It's worked out well," he said. "I'm pretty happy."
A glance at the company website shows the Latin phrase Esse quam videri as a motto: "To be, rather than to seem (to be)" - appropriate for a business in digital imaging.
Clients come from the cultural heritage community - national libraries, museums and archives - and the digital photography arena, including mobile (users of cellphone cameras). "The focus is on imaging performance evaluation, monitoring and software tools," he said. "We help with ways to set up, such as someone with several thousand images or documents, using standard practices so they are done in a consistent way. Any imaging of a library, archive or museum needs additional information - what camera images were from, when taken. That's my part of the process."
Typical projects for Burns involve meta data and come from "two communities of customers: libraries and museums, which can be high-tech but are relatively easy to talk about, and digital photography for the electrical engineering crowd, which is very applied, such as testing new lenses."
What Burns finds most interesting about his consulting clients and projects is working with historical material. He also can stay in touch with his roots through his work. "A few years ago, I visited Corpus Christi College in Cambridge (England), near where my family had spent vacations when I was a boy, for a project in collaboration with Stanford University in California," he recalled. "The project included scanning old material - illuminated manuscripts. We noticed several pictures of animals were evidently based on verbal descriptions from travelers - in one example, an elephant's feet looked more like a horse's hooves."
His work also sometimes shows Burns new ways that digital is being used, such as a project of a recent client: "a large cosmetics company that is using color imaging to support clinical evaluation of their products."
For most of Burns's consulting projects, "I usually verify results and supply a software tool that serves as a prototype for product developers." That tool is Matlab, which can do coding, imaging and programming. "It helps with consulting, but also provides a deliverable," he said. "Modern products won't be programmed in that language, but it's very useful for demonstrating results" - it helps him reassure clients who like to see and receive something tangible.
Clients find Burns and his consulting services through connections he makes at conferences and when he does teaching or presentations; his LinkedIn presence; and referrals from clients and colleagues - "people I know or who know of me." He also has a website, BurnsDigitalImaging.com
, which helps drive business to his consulting services.
Although he calls himself a "natural introvert," Burns does what it takes to build up his business, including networking through RPCN. He has become a familiar face at RPCN events, handing out nametags and greeting participants. "For me, it is important to make personal connections in both the larger - national and international - imaging field and the local business communities," he said. "Running a small business means I need to know about things outside of my expertise and experience. I find RPCN members to be friendly and helpful." He also is active in the Society for Imaging Science and Technology (IS&T) and a member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Burns tends to view his RPCN membership as a resource for business matters more than for the specifics of his technology niche or a direct source of new projects; it has been useful in providing referrals for services he has needed, such as business insurance. "I didn't identify myself as a small-business guy until after I started my formal consulting business," he said. "Often, I will get a tip or answers to my questions from RPCN discussions. I'm visible internationally, but it's good to have personal, local interaction. And there's too much information nowadays - it's helpful to listen to others."
Ruth E. "I can write about anything!"® Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com
) is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher and speaker.