Birefringent structures in liquid crystalline fluids, such as colloidal assemblies or topological defects, show high potential for use as photonic elements. Here, we present a brief overview of two photonic phenomena originating from coupling light fields with complex birefringent nematic profiles: (i) the generation of vector laser beams from simple Gaussian beams by propagating light along nematic discliantions, and (ii) tunable photonic crystals from blue phase colloidal crystals conditioned by the different underlying symmetries of the particle lattice and the blue phase birefringence. The polarization profile of initially simple linearly polarized Gaussian beams is shown to change into a defect structure at distinct distances travelled along the disclination with the topological invariant (winding number) of the light field and nematic director distinctly coupled. Upon pulsed laser illumination, the nematic discliantions are also shown to split the light pulse into multiple intensity regions. Blue phase I face centred cubic colloidal crystals are shown as examples of tunable photonic crystals, where local band-baps can open by differently combining the symmetries of the two components, e.g. by changing the particle size. The spatial profiles of selected photonic bands in the blue phase colloidal crystals are shown, finding the particles and blue phase double twist cylinders as possible carriers of high-light-intensity regions.