As a pioneer female National Geographic photographer, Annie Griffiths has never employed an assistant, nor had someone carry her bags. But she's never been lonely: her children, Lily and Charlie, have been her passport.
In her mother's womb, Lily had already travelled to 13 countries. The two children have since stayed on almost every continent, Griffiths insisting her daughter and son remain with her in villages from Israel to Syria, to their favourite place, Jordan.
At one point, the family attended a desert wedding that was hit by a dust storm. Their new Bedouin friend, Hamoudi, wrapped young Charlie in a keffiyeh, his act of protecting the boy ''revealing the most welcoming culture on earth'', Griffiths says.
The family loved the ancient city of Petra, carved from sandstone, which Griffiths says was much safer than Washington DC. ''People ask me all the time, 'Were you nervous taking your kids to the Middle East?''' she says. ''I did my homework; I would never take my kids somewhere dangerous.''
Having two kids by her side taught the US-born photographer she could navigate communities without translators. ''Children open your eyes,'' says Griffiths, now 59, who will recount the family's adventures for the National Geographic Live series at the Sydney Opera House.
''I've worked in places with people who've never seen a Caucasian woman, and yet when they find out I'm a mother, that's something we have in common.''
National Geographic's best photographers and most charismatic speakers are regularly flown around the world to address public forums in the live series. In common, the photographers have a deep fear about our collective carbon footprint and global warming.
Griffiths is executive director of a non-profit group, Ripple Effect Images, which documents programs empowering women and girls dealing with climate change in emerging nations. She has lived among and photographed survivors of natural disasters, famine, genocide and war.
''Seventy per cent of people who die in natural disasters are women, because they're not saving themselves, they're saving the kids,'' Griffiths says. ''Most people don't realise that women and girls are much more affected by climate change than men are because they're the ones who have to go further and further to find the water, to collect the wood, to nurse the sick as diseases spread.''
Griffiths' National Geographic career began serendipitously. In 1977 she was a junior photographer at the Worthington Daily Globe in southern Minnesota, when she answered the phone. On the line was National Geographic's director of photography, Bob Gilka, who wanted a strong picture of a hailstorm in the area.
''I said, 'Yes, sir, I can go and get that picture.' '' Griffiths' storm picture was published in the magazine, something that gave her the courage to go back with another story idea. At 25, she became the youngest photographer working for the magazine.
About a decade into her National Geographic career, Griffiths fell in love with Don Belt, a writer who became the magazine's chief foreign correspondent and a senior editor, and had their two children. They are no longer married, but daughter Lily, 23, works with her mother as communications director at Ripple Effect, while Charlie, 19, just travelled with his mother on an assignment to Ireland.
Environmentally like-minded is Griffiths' colleague, photographer Mattias Klum, who has travelled to more than 100 countries during his career. Klum wants to inspire people to make a ''personal life audit'' about their consumption and waste choices. If questioned on the value of photographing, say, a poison dart frog - one of his National Geographic cover shots - while elsewhere children still die of malaria, Klum says these species are important ''ambassadors'' for biodiversity and sustainability.
Other Klum assignments included the meerkats of the South African Kalahari desert. He dismissed one of his portraits of a meerkat with millipedes hanging from its mouth as ''dorky''. But it became another cover. ''That's how little I know,'' he says.
Annie Griffiths appears at the Opera House on November 18 and Mattias Klum on December 9.