Many efforts to model stream temperature by using an energy budget approach have not accounted for view factors in modelling stream surface radiative exchanges, used informal approaches for computing them, or relied on calibration, which is not applicable for prediction at unmonitored sites or for predicting the effects of changes in riparian vegetation. In this paper, equations are derived for calculating view factors on the basis of geometric considerations for streams with and without riparian forest. The solutions can accommodate vegetation overhanging the stream surface. Example calculations illustrate the substantial variability of view factors across the stream width, which has implications for the estimation of view factors from point-scale radiation measurements over the stream surface, and the important influence of overhanging vegetation on view factors for narrow streams. View factors computed from the geometric model agreed well with view factors computed from hemispherical photography for streams ranging from 1 to almost 50 m wide, indicating that the model appears to be reasonably robust to deviations from the simplified geometry assumed by the model. In addition to their use in modelling stream surface energy exchanges, the solutions could also be adapted for application to energy balance and microclimate modelling in linear forest openings, such as seismic lines used in oil and gas exploration. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.