A phenomenological description, or “conceptual model,” of how direct-injection (DI) diesel combustion occurs has been derived from laser-sheet imaging and other recent optical data. To provide background, the most relevant of the recent imaging data of the author and co-workers are presented and discussed, as are the relationships between the various imaging measurements. Where appropriate, other supporting data from the literature is also discussed. Then, this combined information is summarized in a series of idealized schematics that depict the combustion process for a typical, modern-diesel-engine condition. The schematics incorporate virtually all of the information provided by our recent imaging data including: liquid- and vapor-fuel zones, fuel/air mixing, autoignition, reaction zones, and soot distributions. By combining all these elements, the schematics show the evolution of a reacting diesel fuel jet from the start of fuel injection up through the first part of the mixing-controlled burn (i.e. until the end of fuel injection). In addition, for a “developed” reacting diesel fuel jet during the mixing-controlled burn, the schematics explain the sequence of events that occurs as fuel moves from the injector downstream through the mixing, combustion, and emissions-formation processes. The conceptual model depicted in these schematics also gives insight into the most likely mechanisms for soot formation and destruction and NO formation during the portion of the DI diesel combustion event discussed.