Data on net CO2 exchange from eight forests in Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland were used to analyse which factors were controlling photosynthesis and respiration. The forests consisted of different species ranging in climatic condition from temperate to subarctic. Only well mixed conditions were analysed (u* > 0.3 m s−1). The parameters of a light response function showed strong seasonal variations with similar behaviour for all stands except for a beech forest where the development of a vigorous ground vegetation in spring affected the photosynthesis parameters differently as compared to the other forests. The beech forest also showed the highest respiration rates in the earlier part of the growing season in contrast to the other forests that showed maximum values in late part of July. The mean half-monthly nighttime respiration rates were well explained by an equation with one fitting parameter, the respiration rate at 10 °C, with an r2= 0.864 for all stands together. The difference between the stands concerning both photosynthesis and respiration parameters were largely explained by the differences in LAI. After normalizing for LAI, the only remaining correlation was between respiration and stand age. These results are promising for application of remote sensing for estimation of respiration as well as gross primary productivity from forests.