Modification of plant types (i.e. plant architecture) is an important strategy to enhance the yield potential of crops. The aims of this study were to specify rice plant types using 3-D modelling methodology. The architecture of three typical hybrid rice cultivars were measured in situ in a paddy field using a 3-D digitiser at four development stages from the panicle initiation to the filling stage. The structural parameters of the rice canopies were calculated and their light capture and potential carbon gain were simulated based on a 3-D light model. The results confirmed that a plant type with steeper leaf angles let light penetrate more deeply with relatively uniform light distribution in the canopy at higher sun elevation angles, although this result was related to leaf area index. The variations of plant types, however, did not convert into differences of light distribution across rice varieties at lower sun elevation angles. Light use efficiency at the higher leaf area index could be enhanced by reducing mutual-shading. These results indicate that a promising approach to quantify the rice architecture in situ is to combine 3-D digitising and a 3-D light model to evaluate light interception and photosynthesis of rice plant types.