James Robertson was a gem engraver and chief engraver to the Imperial Mint in Constantinople. By 1854 he took portraits of the Coldstream Guards and the Ninety-third Highlanders at Scutari, near Constantinople. Between July and December 1854 his views of Constantinople were published in The Illustrated London News, the same year the English edition of Théophile Gautier's Constantinople was published with engravings from Robertson's photographs.
In 1855 Robertson again showed views of Constantinople at the Photographic Society of London's second annual exhibition and at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, where he also showed photographs of Greece. He was photographing in the Crimea in 1855 and in December held an exhibition in Regent Street on the fall of Sevastopol. In April 1856 he and Roger Fenton held a joint exhibition of their Crimean War work.
In late 1855 Robertson married the sister of the photographer Felice Beato, Maria Matilde. Robertson made a photographic trip in the summer of 1856 to Smyrna, Malta, Constantinople, and Marseilles. In 1857 he left for India as official photographer to the British army, along with Felice Beato, photographing en route through Egypt and Palestine. Little is known of Robertson's activities after he left India except that he maintained residency in Constantinople until 1881.