Key message: Leaf area index and species composition influence red-to-near-infrared and red-to-shortwave-infrared transmittance ratios of boreal and temperate forest canopies. In this short communication paper, we present how the spectral composition of transmitted shortwave radiation (350–2200 nm) varies in boreal and temperate forests based on a detailed set of measurements conducted in Finland and Czechia. Our results show that within-stand variation in canopy transmittance is wavelength dependent, and is the largest for sparse forest stands. Increasing leaf area index (LAI) reduces the overall level of transmittance as well as red-to-near-infrared and red-to-shortwave-infrared transmittance ratios. Given the same LAI, these ratios are lower for broadleaved than for coniferous forests. These results demonstrate the importance of both LAI and forest type (broadleaved vs. coniferous) in determining light quality under forest canopies.