Net CO(2) uptake in full sunlight, total leaf area (TLA), projected leaf area of detached leaves (PLA), and the silhouette area of attached leaves in their natural orientation to the sun at midday on June 1 (SLA) were measured for sun shoots of six conifer species. Among species, TLA/SLA ranged between 5.2 and 10.0 (x bar = 7.3), TLA/PLA ranged between 2.5 and 2.9 (x bar = 2.7) and PLA/SLA ranged between 2.0 and 3.7 (x bar = 2.2). These ratios were reflected in the ratios of net photosynthesis computed on the basis of the three measures of leaf area. The much smaller values for TLA/PLA compared with the values for TLA/SLA indicate that leaf orientation effects, or shading, or both, caused more variation in the interception of solar radiation than did variation in leaf geometry (i.e., cross-section). Silhouette leaf area of lodgepole pine, (Pinus contorta spp. latifolia) and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) shoots measured at the summer solstice varied almost 2-fold with diurnal changes in solar altitude and azimuth. Sun shoots of both species and shade shoots of lodgepole pine had the greatest SLA during the early morning and late afternoon. The midday decline in SLA was related to the relatively upright orientation of needles of subalpine fir sun shoots and the relatively upright orientation of both sun and shade shoots of lodgepole pine. Shade shoots of subalpine fir reached a maximum in SLA at midday and this was related to the near horizontal orientation both of the shoots and the needles on them. Importance of the method of leaf area measurement to the interpretation of gas exchange of complex shoots.