© 2019 The Authors. Limnology and Oceanography published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography. Measurements of the particulate volume scattering function, βp(ψ), at light wavelength of 532 nm, particle size distribution, PSD, and several metrics of particulate concentration and composition were made on eight contrasting seawater samples from nearshore and coastal oceanic environments including river estuary and offshore locations. Both βp(ψ) and PSDs were measured on original (unfiltered) samples and particle size-fractionated samples obtained through filtration using mesh filters with pore sizes of 5 and 20 μm. We present results based on direct size-fractionated measurements and data adjusted for imperfect fractionation, which provide insights into the roles played by particle size and composition in angle-resolved light scattering produced by highly variable natural assemblages of aquatic particles. Despite intricate interplay between the effects of particle size and composition, small particles (< 5 μm in size) consistently produced a major or dominant contribution (~ 50–80%) to the particulate backscattering coefficient, bbp, in organic, either phytoplankton or nonalgal, dominated samples regardless of significant variations in PSD between these samples. The notable exception was a sample dominated by large-celled diatoms from microphytoplankton size range, which exemplifies a scenario when large particles (> 20 μm) can produce a considerable contribution (~ 40%) to bbp. We also observed a trend for inorganic-dominated samples exhibiting consistently lower contributions (~ 30–40%) of small particles to bbp. The particle size-based budget for the particulate scattering coefficient, bp, indicates a significant decrease in the role of small particles accompanied by an increase in the role of larger particles compared to the bbp budget.