The potential of algae to acclimate to environmental stress is commonly assessed using chlorophyll a fluorescence, with changes in parameters of photosynthesis versus irradiance (P/E) curves measured either as rapid light curves (RLC) or steady-state light curves (LC). Here, effects of emersion on primary photosynthesis of four brown macroalgae (Ascophyllum nodosum, Fucus serratus, Sargassum muticum, Laminaria digitata) were compared by applying both RLC and LC. When LC were used, photosynthetic performance was enhanced during emersion in A. nodosum and F. serratus as shown by increases in q(P), rETR(max) and E (k). By contrast, emersion had no impact on photosynthetic parameters of S. muticum and L. digitata. Relative changes in the NPQ-rETR relationship were reduced in A. nodosum, F. serratus and S. muticum, but remained unaffected in L. digitata. As none of the species developed their potential NPQ(max), corresponding values could not be determined from RLC. Using RLC, observed photosynthetic performance of F. serratus and L. digitata was reduced upon emersion, whilst values for NPQ(max) were enhanced. Only results derived from LC provide evidence for a potential physiological adaptation of brown macroalgae to their natural habitat; it is recommended using the LC protocol to detect environmental impacts on photosynthesis.