For decades, John Todd has watched soccer games in the stands and through a camera lens on the field.
He’ll always prefer the camera lens.
“You see things other people don’t see,” said Todd, who is the principal and creative director for ISI Photos, which shoots U.S. Soccer, MLS and other soccer events throughout the world. “You see little nuances of the game, the interaction between the players. It’s like watching the game through a periscope. You see these really intense things. I have watched two San Jose Earthquakes games while not shooting. I actually prefer to be on the field for the game.”
Todd will be in his favorite place for the upcoming 2016 Copa America Centenario games, including Friday’s opener between the U.S. and Colombia.
Just like the players getting ready to play in a major soccer tournament like Copa America Centenario, Todd is starting to feel something similar as he gets ready to photograph it. ISI Photos and MexSport are the official photographer providers for Copa America Centenario.
“The juices definitely get flowing,” the 49-year-old Todd said. “It’s great to be there with all the international photographers, all the international press. You feel the excitement in the media. You can feel the tension when the teams walk out. It ramps up a lot. It feels like a mini World Cup, for sure.”
Todd has been photographing soccer for 20-plus years. He got his first big break when he was hired to shoot games for the San Jose Clash, which later became the San Jose Earthquakes. He later got a chance to photograph the U.S. Men’s National Team and other teams for ISI Photos at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. It was an experience he’ll never forget.
“I traveled for 21 days by myself covering 12 or 13 games,” said Todd, who is originally from Palo Alto. “It was pretty much a game every other day. I couldn’t have had it better with the U.S. team having such an incredible tournament. The people were incredible there, totally took care of the tourists in their country, and it was super well run. That was my first foray in the tournament.”
It wouldn’t be his last. He bought ISI Photos in 2003 and has since been to two additional men’s Word Cups and three women’s World Cups.
“I tell everybody that once you go to a World Cup game you’ll never get away from soccer,” Todd said. “Feeling that soccer passion and that pageantry can’t be beat by any sport.”
ISI Photos has come a long way since Todd first purchased the company. It started with just a few photographs and saw some rough days as soccer publications dwindled over the years due to the economy. In recent years, though, as soccer interest has grown and grown throughout the U.S. and elsewhere, ISI Photos has flourished as well.
Todd and his business partner and managing director Annette Shelby are the main pieces to ISI Photos. They have more than 20 photographers throughout world working for them. Todd especially mentioned the work of John Dorton and Brad Smith. He described them as the rocks of the company.
“I think we try to adhere to a certain level of quality,” Todd said. “We don’t take on new photographers. We have a core group. We’re going to hit one million images this year. One of our goals is ISI to go on for 100 years and to be the definitive library for U.S. Soccer. That’s my goal for ISI to always be around for the soccer community.”
In that library are some of Todd’s personal favorites. One came during the 2002 World Cup when he photographed goalkeeper Brad Friedel in midair blocking a shot during a pivotal point of the game.
“It was a crucial moment in the 2002 FIFA World Cup game against Korea,” Todd said. “If he had not stopped the PK, we probably would have lost the match, and not made it to the quarterfinals. It was also the first time I really captured a goalie making a save in the air, with the ball, and at such a critical moment.”
Another favorite is of Landon Donovan between two Mexico players and he's off the ground and still concentrating on the ball.
“It’s the intensity on his face,” Todd explained. “He’s sandwiched between two Mexico players, in the air, yet, his eye is still on the ball. I felt this really captured the intensity that Donovan brought to the game.”
Todd also has two prize shots of U.S. Women’s National Team players including a legendary photo of Abby Wambach following the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and Carli Lloyd during the 2012 Olympics.
“It’s a ‘Captain America’ type shot of her,” Todd said of the Wambach photo. “A shaft of light was on the field, she stepped into it, and raised her finger to the crowd, smiled, and then the moment was gone.
“I like the image of Carli because of the joy on her face,” Todd continued. “It’s the Olympic finals, she scores two goals, the game is in hand, and she knows the team is about to take home gold.
Todd sends other photographers to shoot games, but he still does his own shooting as well. He works 20-plus games a year between U.S. Soccer and MLS with a drive to get those iconic shots all photographers want.
“You definitely see it right away,” Todd said. “You know right away. Getting a great soccer photograph is like getting a goal in the photography world. You get really excited.”
It’s what he’ll undoubtedly be searching for at Copa America Centenario.