Catching the Photo Bug: Adventures Online with Instructor Mason Marsh

Road Scholar instructor and photographer Mason Marsh began his career as an educator in photojournalism. “I guess you can say I backed into teaching,” he says, laughing. “But journalism really is perfect training — all that research and telling stories.”

He might have backed into it, but his passion for lifelong learning is clear and expansive, honed by decades of teaching in museums, on tall ships, in classrooms and in the field.

A group of photographers taking pictures with various camera equipment

“I used to teach a lot of in-the-field photography courses, but after I had kids, I wanted to stay closer to home. It’s the best of all worlds, really, because I love online learning and I love Road Scholar.” In fact, his history with Road Scholar also spans decades. In 2009, Mason worked as a program coordinator in Road Scholar’s Portland office and discovered very quickly the secret to what makes our participants so singular.

“I immediately realized that we have the best students. They really appreciate learning and they do so enthusiastically. They crave learning, and they inspire me to crave it too.”  

A hazy view of Crater Lake at sunrise, with deep shadows and bright orange colors

That craving is largely behind the success of Road Scholar’s Adventures Online. “Online workshops and lectures offer benefits that courses in the field don’t,” Mason explains. “We get to dictate how to focus and concentrate our time because the participants do the field work on their own. I can dive into the more technical sides of photography, from cameras to software.”

Adult learners, he adds, learn really well online and at home. “It’s like eating a singular meal,” he explains. “You want to stop and enjoy it, savor it. That’s the best way to learn, at a slower pace, at home, a few hours at a time. You have a chance to think about it, then come back the next day with questions.”

When asked if it’s difficult to teach the more technical programs like Adobe Lightroom, a photo-editing and management software package, he agrees they’re complicated and not always intuitive to navigate. “But photography in general is tech-heavy,” he explains. “It’s like music — musicians like to use and understand tech to make their art; it’s a means to an end. And everyone in my classes is approaching these subjects with exploration in mind and for the pure joy of learning.”  

A photo of a wave smashing into the jagged Oregon coastline

No matter your experience with it, tech is a vast frontier, fast-changing and quickly evolving. “It can be intimidating for anyone,” Mason says. “But what I love about our participants is that they’re seasoned adventurers, lifelong learners, and they’re like, ‘We’re conditioned for this! We’re used to trying to figure things out that are new and difficult, and we’re going to nibble away at it until we understand it.’ Not everyone is like that. Road Scholars are a different breed.”

Because of that desire for learning, Mason now has five Adventure Online options, ranging from smartphones to the fundamentals of digital photography and navigating software like Lightroom. “Every one of those workshops exists because our participants have asked for them — and we listen! I’m excited that we’re building this catalog. It means that those who get the photo bug can stay here and keep learning.”

That “bug” is not hard to catch. “Photography is such a great outlet for people,” Mason explains. “It’s therapeutic and you get to see new things, get outside. It’s not really about the product, but the process. It’s as much fun to photograph flowers on your kitchen table as it is to, say, go to a flower market in India.”  

A closeup photo of a brown owl with yellow eyes

Photography is a way for people to connect. “People think it’s a solitary pursuit, but it’s a great shared experience, and we are a species that needs that kind of social interaction. Getting out with other people and taking photos is good for bodies and minds, aids in dexterity and keeps our brains fresh.”

Despite his decades of experience, Mason is just getting started. “Road Scholars are the most amazing people. Just when I think I have rich life experience, I talk to our participants and I realize I’m not even close,” he laughs. “When people share their photos in our workshops and I see what they’ve seen and places they’ve gone, I’m inspired by them to do more, travel more, never stop exploring. Road Scholar is doing such a great job of keeping people social, keeping them engaged, all born from their desire to do more. That’s what Road Scholar is for.”  

A man in a blue coat sits on a block of blue ice on the coast of Iceland

Interested in sampling one (or more) of Mason’s Adventures Online? You can find them all here.