Owing to fundamental reasons of symmetry, liquid crystals are soft materials. This softness allows long length-scales, large susceptibilities and the existence of modulated phases, which respond readily to external fields. Liquid crystals with such phases are tunable, self-assembled, photonic band gap materials; they offer exciting opportunities both in basic science and in technology. Since the density of photon states is suppressed in the stop band and is enhanced at the band edges, these materials may be used as switchable filters or as mirrorless lasers. Disordered periodic liquid crystal structures can show random lasing. We highlight recent advances in this rapidly growing area, and discuss future prospects in emerging liquid crystal materials. Liquid crystal elastomers and orientationally ordered nanoparticle assemblies are of particular interest.