Climate change is affecting the phenology of terrestrial ecosystems. In deciduous forests, phenology in leaf area index (LAI) is the primary driver of seasonal variation in the fraction of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation (fAPAR), which drives photosynthesis. Remote sensing has been widely used to estimate LAI and fAPAR. However, while many studies have examined both empirical and model-based relationships among LAI, fAPAR, and spectral vegetation indices (SVI) from remote sensing, few studies have systematically and empirically examined how relationships among these variables change over the growing season. In this study, we examine how and why seasonal-scale covariation differs among time series of remotely sensed SVIs and both LAI and fAPAR based on current understanding and theory. To do this we use newly available remote sensing data sets in combination with time series of in-situ measurements and a canopy radiative transfer model to analyze how seasonal variation in canopy and environmental conditions affect relationships among remotely sensed SVIs, LAI, and fAPAR at a temperate deciduous forest site in central Massachusetts. Our results show that accounting for seasonal variation in canopy shadowing, which is driven by variation in solar zenith angle, improved remote sensing-based estimates of LAI, fAPAR, and daily total APAR. Specifically, we show that the phenology of SVIs is strongly influenced by seasonal variation in near infrared (NIR) reflectance arising from systematic variation in the canopy shadow fraction that is independent of changes in LAI or fAPAR. Results of this work provide a refined basis for understanding how remote sensing can be used to monitor and model the phenology of LAI, fAPAR, APAR, and gross primary productivity in temperate deciduous forests.