David Heath was drafted in 1952 and served in Korea, taking many photographs there. On his return he attended Philadelphia Museum College, followed by Philadelphia College of Art during the 1954 to 1955 year and then moved to Chicago to study at the Chicago Institute of Design, in 1955 to 1956. In 1959 he attended The New School for Social Research in New York City, where he settled.
Since 1970 David Heath has been professor of photography at Ryerson Polytechmcal Institute, Toronto, Canada. He previously was an assistant professor at Moore College of Art, Philadelphia (1967-1970), and an instructor in photography at the School of the Dayton Art Institute, Ohio (1965-1967).
David Heath has been an artist-in-residence at the International Center of Photography in New York City (1978), Visual Studies Workshop (1976-1977) and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (1965). David Heath assisted photographers Wingate Paine, Carl Fischer and Bert Stem in New York from 1957 to 1963.
David Heath was inspired by Life magazine, most notably the article "Bad Boy's Story: An Unhappy Child Learns to Live at Peace with the World" by Life photographer Ralph Crane in 1947, and the 1946 book Photography is a Language by John R. Whiting.