Light is not only the driving force for electron and ion transport in the thylakoid membrane, but also regulates ion transport in various other membranes of plant cells. Light-dependent changes in ion transport at the plasma membrane and associated membrane potential changes have been studied intensively over the last century. These studies, with various species and cell types, revealed that apart from regulation by chloroplasts, plasma membrane transport can be controlled by phytochromes, phototropins or channel rhodopsins. In this review, we compare light-dependent plasma membrane responses of unicellular algae (Eremosphaera and Chlamydomonas), with those of a multicellular alga (Chara), liverworts (Conocephalum), mosses (Physcomitrella) and several angiosperm cell types. Light-dependent plasma membrane responses of Eremosphaera and Chara are characterised by the dominant role of K+ channels during membrane potential changes. In most other species, the Ca2+-dependent activation of plasma membrane anion channels represents a general light-triggered event. Cell type-specific responses are likely to have evolved by modification of this general response or through the development of additional light-dependent signalling pathways. Future research to elucidate these light-activated signalling chains is likely to benefit from the recent identification of S-type anion channel genes and proteins capable of regulating these channels.