High-reflectivity of materials, such as magnesium, copper and aluminum, results in low thermal efficiency of their infrared laser welding processes. AZ31 magnesium alloy was selected to study the effects of power modulation on energy coupling efficiency in laser welding of highly-reflective materials. A model for the relationship between energy coupling efficiency and modulation parameters was obtained. The energy coupling efficiency in optimized modulated-power laser welding was about 1.58 times that in constant-power welding The mechanism was explored by analyzing keyhole evolution and the resulted pressure distribution along keyhole wall during welding. The keyhole evolutions in laser continuous welding of common material (Q345 steel, reflectivity of 65%) and highly-reflective material (AZ31, reflectivity of 85%) were observed through high-speed imaging by utilizing a half sandwich method. The results indicated that the secret of improving energy coupling efficiency of laser welding process of highly-reflective materials through power modulation was the formation of a deep keyhole and its long life. When instantaneous power decreased from the peak, there was still enough recoil pressure at the bottom of keyhole to resist surface tension and hydrostatic pressure of liquid metal, which was the fundamental reason for the long time existence of keyhole with a large depth. (C) 2019 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd.