Little is certain about Felice Beato's early development as a photographer, though it is said that he bought his first and only lens in Paris in 1851. He probably met the British photographer James Robertson in Malta in 1850 and accompanied him to Constantinople in 1851. In 1853 the two began photographing together and they formed a partnership called "Robertson & Beato" either in that year or in 1854, when Robertson opened a photographic studio in Pera, Constantinople. Robertson and Beato were joined by Beato's brother Antonio on photographic expeditions to Malta in 1854 or 1856 and to Greece and Jerusalem in 1857. A number of the firm's photographs produced in the 1850s are signed "Robertson, Beato and Co.", and it is believed that the "and Co." refers to Antonio.
In 1855 Felice Beato and Robertson travelled to Balaklava, Crimea, where they took over reportage of the Crimean War following Roger Fenton's departure. They photographed the fall of Sevastopol in September 1855, producing about 60 images. Their Crimean images dramatically changed the way that war was reported and depicted.
In February 1858 Beato arrived in Calcutta and began travelling throughout Northern India to document the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. During this time he produced possibly the first-ever photographic images of corpses. He was also in the cities of Delhi, Cawnpore, Meerut, Benares, Amritsar, Agra, Simla, and Lahore. Beato was joined in July 1858 by his brother Antonio, who later left India, probably for health reasons, in December 1859. Antonio ended up in Egypt in 1860, setting up a photographic studio in Thebes in 1862.
In 1860 Beato left the partnership of Robertson & Beato. Beato was sent from India to photograph the Anglo-French military expedition to China in the Second Opium War. He arrived in Hong Kong in March and immediately began photographing the city and its surroundings as far as Canton. Beato's photographs are some of the earliest taken in China.
While in Hong Kong, Beato met Charles Wirgman, an artist and correspondent for the Illustrated London News. The two accompanied the Anglo-French forces travelling north to Talien Bay, then to Pehtang and the Taku Forts at the mouth of the Peiho, and on to Peking and Qingyi Yuan, the suburban Summer Palace.
By 1863 Beato had moved to Yokohama, Japan, joining Charles Wirgman, with whom he had travelled from Bombay to Hong Kong. The two formed and maintained a partnership called "Beato & Wirgman, Artists and Photographers" during the years 1864–1867, one of the earliest and most important commercial studios in Japan. Beato's Japanese photographs include portraits, genre works, landscapes, cityscapes, and a series of photographs documenting the scenery and sites along the Tōkaidō Road, the latter series recalling the ukiyo-e of Hiroshige and Hokusai.
From 1884 to 1885 Beato was the official photographer of the expeditionary forces led by Baron (later Viscount) G.J. Wolseley to Khartoum, Sudan, in relief of General Charles Gordon.
Briefly back in England in 1886, Beato lectured the London and Provincial Photographic Society on photographic techniques. Beato set up a photographic studio in Mandalay and, in 1894, a curiosa and antiques dealership, running both businesses separately and, according to records at the time, very successfully.
In his old age, Beato had become an important business party in Colonial Burma, involved in many enterprises from electric works to life insurance and mining.
Although Beato was previously believed to have died in Rangoon or Mandalay in 1905 or 1906, his death certificate, discovered in 2009, indicates that he died on 29 January 1909 in Florence, Italy.
The ruins of Sikandar Bagh palace showing the skeletal remains of rebels in the foreground, Lucknow, India1858
Wenchang Pavilion aka. Wenchang Tower (文昌阁) of the Summer Palace (Yihe Yuan), before being burnt down1860
Interior of Fort Taku immediately after capture1860
Samurai of the Satsuma Clan1868
Queen's Silver Pagoda, Mandalay1889
The death certificate indicates that he was a bachelor.