The son of animal portraitist Harry Hall, Sydney Hall was educated at Merchant Taylors School. He decided on a career as an artist while at Oxford University and joined the staff of The Graphic, an illustrated newspaper, shortly after its foundation in late 1869. He immediately established his name with a series of vivid drawings made at the front during the Franco-Prussian War.
As stated in the contemporary publication The Art Journal, his drawings of the Parnell Commission were among his finest achievements in the medium of graphic journalism: "he was in court the whole time, busy with a swift revealing pencil which missed no turn of affairs".
He illustrated a number of books including Tom Browns School Days (MacMillan, 1885), and Tom Brown at Oxford by Thomas Hughes.