The characteristic traits of maize (Zea mays L.) leaves affect light interception and photosynthesis. Measurement or estimation of individual leaf area has been described using discontinuous equations or bell-shaped functions. However, new maize hybrids show different canopy architecture, such as leaf angle in modern maize which is more upright and ear leaf and adjacent leaves which are longer than older hybrids. The original equations and their parameters, which have been used for older maize hybrids and grown at low plant densities, will not accurately represent modern hybrids. Therefore, the aim of this paper was to develop a new empirical equation that captures vertical leaf distribution. To characterize the vertical leaf profile, we conducted a field experiment in Jilin province, Northeast China from 2015 to 2018. Our new equation for the vertical distribution of leaf profile describes leaf length, width or leaf area as a function of leaf rank, using parameters for the maximum value for leaf length, width or area, the leaf rank at which the maximum value is obtained, and the width of the curve. It thus involves one parameter less than the previously used equations. By analysing the characteristics of this new equation, we identified four key leaf ranks (4, 8, 14 and 20) for which leaf parameter values need to be quantified in order to have a good estimation of leaf length, width and area. Together, the method of leaf area estimation proposed here adds versatility for use in modern maize hybrids and simplifies the field measurements by using the four key leaf ranks to estimate vertical leaf distribution in maize canopy instead of all leaf ranks.