Abstract Predicted values of photoequilibrium ratios and rates of photoconversion and cycling, calculated from known optical parameters of purified phytochrome and the spectral photon flux distribution of the light sources used, arc often applied in the evaluation of the relationships between the state of phytochrome and the expression of phytochrome-mediated responses. This is commonly done when the state of phytochrome in vivo cannot be determined experimentally. The ‘predicted’ states of phytochrome may be quite different from the actual ones in vivo for several reasons: the particular set of optical parameters of purified phytochrome used in the calculations and the difficulties encountered in correcting the predicted values for the contribution of the non-photochemical reactions (dark reversion, destruction, synthesis), the effects of the optical properties of the tissue (light attenuation, scattering, trapping) on the rate of phytochrome photo-conversion, and the geometrical relationships between irradiated sample and the light source. At present, in many studies, it is not possible to avoid using predicted values of the state of phytochrome. The limitations imposed by the use of ‘predicted’ values in the interpretation of results obtained in plant photomorphogenesis research should be always clearly stated.