The purpose of this study was to estimate the fraction of photosynthetically active radiation absorbed by the canopy (fPAR) from point measurements to airborne lidar for hierarchical scaling up and assessment of the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) fPAR product within a “medium-sized” (7 km × 18 km) watershed. Nine sites across Canada, containing one or more (of 11) distinct species types and age classes at varying stages of regeneration and seasonal phenology were examined using a combination of discrete pulse airborne scanning Light Detection And Ranging (lidar) and coincident analog and digital hemispherical photography (HP). Estimates of fPAR were first compared using three methods: PAR radiation sensors, HP, and airborne lidar. HP provided reasonable estimates of fPAR when compared with radiation sensors. A simplified fractional canopy cover ratio from lidar based on the number of within canopy returns to the total number of returns was then compared with fPAR estimated from HP at 486 geographically registered measurement locations. The return ratio fractional cover method from lidar compared well with HP-derived fPAR (coefficient of determination = 0.72, RMSE = 0.11), despite varying the lidar survey configurations, canopy structural characteristics, seasonal phenologies, and possible slight inaccuracies in location using handheld GPS at some sites. Lidar-derived fractional cover estimates of fPAR were ∼ 10% larger than those obtained using HP (after removing wood components), indicating that lidar likely provides a more realistic estimate of fPAR than HP when compared with radiation sensors. Finally, fPAR derived from lidar fractional cover was modelled at 1 m resolution and averaged over 99 1 km areas for comparison with MODIS fPAR. The following study is one of the first to scale between plot measurements and MODIS pixels using airborne lidar.