Changes in plant phenology affect the carbon flux of terrestrial forest ecosystems due to the link between the growing season length and vegetation productivity. Digital camera imagery, which can be acquired frequently, has been used to monitor seasonal and annual changes in forest canopy phenology and track critical phenological events. However, quantitative assessment of the structural and biochemical controls of the phenological patterns in camera images has rarely been done. In this study, we used an NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) camera to monitor daily variations of vegetation reflectance at visible and near-infrared (NIR) bands with high spatial and temporal resolutions, and found that the infrared camera based NDVI (camera-NDVI) agreed well with the leaf expansion process that was measured by independent manual observations at Harvard Forest, Massachusetts, USA. We also measured the seasonality of canopy structural (leaf area index, LAI) and biochemical properties (leaf chlorophyll and nitrogen content). We found significant linear relationships between camera-NDVI and leaf chlorophyll concentration, and between camera-NDVI and leaf nitrogen content, though weaker relationships between camera-NDVI and LAI. Therefore, we recommend ground-based camera-NDVI as a powerful tool for long-term, near surface observations to monitor canopy development and to estimate leaf chlorophyll, nitrogen status, and LAI.