Hurn is a self-taught photographer. He began his career in 1955 when he worked for Reflex Agency. He gained his reputation as a photojournalist for his documentation of the Hungarian revolution of 1956, and is featured in two of Ken Russell's films for the Monitor television arts' series, A House in Bayswater (1960). and Watch the Birdie (1963). In 1965 he became associated with Magnum Photos and became a full member in 1967.
In 1963, Hurn was commissioned by the producers of the James Bond films to shoot a series of stills with Sean Connery and the actresses of From Russia With Love. When the theatrical property Walther PPK pistol didn't arrive, Hurn volunteered the use of his own Walther LP-53 air pistol. The pistol became a symbol of James Bond on many film posters of the series.
In 1973 he set up the School of Documentary Photography in Newport, Wales. Eventually, he turned away from documentary photojournalism, bringing a more personal approach to his image making. He says, "There are many forms of photography. I consider myself simply a recorder of that which I find of interest around me. I personally have no desire to create or stage direct ideas." His book Wales: Land of My Father illustrates the traditional and the modern aspects of Wales.
- Rebirth of a Capital. Cardiff: Cardiff County Council, 2005. ISBN 978-0-902466-22-7
- Living in Wales. Bridgend: Seren 2003. ISBN 978-1-85411-339-9
- Wales: Land of My Father. London: Thames and Hudson, 2000. ISBN 978-0-500-01983-2
- On Looking at Photographs: A Practical Guide, Anacortes, WA, USA: Lenswork Publishing, 2000. ISBN 978-1-888803-09-9
- On Being a Photographer, Anacortes, WA, USA: Lenswork Publishing, 1997. ISBN 978-1-888803-06-8
- David Hurn: Photographs 1956-1976. London: Arts Council of UK, 1979. ISBN 978-0-7287-0202-8
- 1995, Arts Council of Wales Bursary
- 1993/94, Bradford Fellowship
- 1987/88, Imperial War Museum Arts Award
- 1979/80, U.K./USA Bicentennial Fellowship
- 1975, Kodak Social Photographic Bursary
- 1971, Welsh Arts Council Award
- 2014: Land of My Father, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow, 2014. Part of the Britain in Focus theme of Photobiennale 2014, the UK-Russia Year of Culture.
- Welsh Arts Council, Cardiff, UK
- Contemporary Arts Society for Wales, Cardiff, UK
- Arts Council of Great Britain, London, England, UK
- British Council, London, UK
- Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France
- Galerie du Château d'Eau, Toulouse, France
- International Center of Photography, New York, USA
- Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, USA
- University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, USA
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA
- California Museum of Photography, USA
- National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, Wales, UK
- Michael Brooke "House in Bayswater, A (1960)", BFI screenonline
- Michael Brooke "Watch the Birdie (1963)", BFI screenonline
- "Lot 250 Sale 9017 From Russia with Love, 1963", Christie's. Accessed 2010-01-17.
- "Fonda memories". The Times (London). 2005-05-22. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
-  Photoquotes.com
-  Photohistories.com
- "David Hurn: Land of My Father". Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow. Retrieved 23 April 2014.