Frank Meadow Sutcliffe's father was a painter, printmaker, and an amateur photographer. Frank began to photograph when the family moved to Whitby, Yorshire, in 1871. He first worked for Francis Frith; in 1875 he opened his own portrait studio. In his spare time he walked around Whitby, photographing people, scenes, and landscapes, attempting to develop an unmannered, natural style.
Between 1881 and 1905 Sutcliffe won sixty-two medals at international exhibitions. He had an arrangement with Kodak to try out the latest model cameras; Kodak had the option of using any picture he had taken with their apparatus for their own purposes. Sutcliffe wrote the "Photography Notes" column for the Yorshire Weekly Post from 1908 to 1930, and contributed articles to Amateur Photographer as well as other non-photographic magazines.
Late in his life Sutcliffe was asked by the council of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society to become the curator of the Whitby Gallery and Museum, a position he held until his death at the age of eighty-seven.