To feed an ever-increasing population we must leverage advances in genomics and phenotyping to harness the variation in wheat breeding populations for traits like photosynthetic capacity which remains unoptimized. Here we survey a diverse set of wheat germplasm containing elite, introgression and synthetic derivative lines uncovering previously uncharacterized variation. We demonstrate how strategic integration of exotic material alleviates the D genome genetic bottleneck in wheat, increasing SNP rate by 62% largely due to Ae. tauschii synthetic wheat donors. Across the panel, 67% of the Ae. tauschii donor genome is represented as introgressions in elite backgrounds. We show how observed genetic variation together with hyperspectral reflectance data can be used to identify candidate genes for traits relating to photosynthetic capacity using association analysis. This demonstrates the value of genomic methods in uncovering hidden variation in wheat and how that variation can assist breeding efforts and increase our understanding of complex traits.