This review on chlorophyll a fluorescence starts with an overview of the primary photochemistry occurring at PSII and a characterization of the so-called "open" and "closed" states of its reaction centers. This provides the theoretical background for understanding the origin of PSII-emitted fluorescence and how its yield varies with the fraction of open reaction centers. The review proceeds to discuss the changes in fluorescence emission following illumination of a dark-adapted leaf and to define the PSII intrinsic quantum yield of photochemistry, which in turn provides an indication of PSII capacity. In light-adapted leaves, it is discussed how the use of modulated fluorometers and the double lighting technique allow an evaluation of photochemical and non-photochemical quenching, two parameters that give useful information about the plant's photosynthetic performance under field conditions. Finally, it is described how the PSII operational efficiency can be used to calculate the photosynthetic electron transport rate and the conditions under which this is linearly related to the CO2 assimilation rate. Some requirements for a valid application of the technique as well as some limitations in interpreting its results are discussed.