Born in San Francisco, David Alan Harvey was raised in Virginia and completed his undergraduate degree at the Richmond branch of the College of William and Mary.
From there he moved to Missouri, receiving his graduate degree from the Missouri School of Journalism. In 1969 he began to work for the Topeka Capital-Journal in Kansas, where he was encouraged to photograph in color. A grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts gave him the means to pursue a wide variety of stories, including a year-long reportage of Virginia Beach.
Harvey has photographed more than 40 articles for National Geographic, beginning with a story about Tangier Island, Virginia, in the November 1973 issue of the magazine. He has since covered a wide range of subjects, including hip-hop music, Vietnam, North Carolina's Outer Banks, Tokyo, Grenada, Malaysia, the Puget Sound, the Maya, stock car racing, and Barcelona.
In 1978, Harvey was named Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). He has lectured and led seminars at various universities and has conducted many workshops, including the Santa Fe Workshop, the Annual Photographic Seminar in Steamboat Springs, the Eddie Adams Workshop, the Missouri Workshop, and the Maine Photographic Workshop.
Harvey's work has been exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Nikon Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. His photographs have appeared in Life, The New York Times, and Sports Illustrated. He has published two books, Cuba and Divided Soul.
Harvey joined Magnum Photos as an associate in 1993 and became a member in 1997. He is based in New York.