John Moffat's family moved from Aberdeen to Edinburgh when he was seven years old. His first business dealt in engraved and chalk/crayon portraits. In 1853 he set up his photographic studio in Princes Street where it remained for more than a hundred years. He was principally a portrait photographer, but he also produced stereoscopic photographs. Apart from being a successful businessman, he was also an amateur painter and musician and had eight children, of whom several were as multi-talented as their father.