Humans are a diurnal species usually exposed to light while engaged in cognitive tasks. Light not only guides performance on these tasks through vision but also exerts non-visual effects that are mediated in part by recently discovered retinal ganglion cells maximally sensitive to blue light. We review recent neuroimaging studies which demonstrate that the wavelength, duration and intensity of light exposure modulate brain responses to (non-visual) cognitive tasks. These responses to light are initially observed in alertness-related subcortical structures (hypothalamus, brainstem, thalamus) and limbic areas (amygdala and hippocampus), followed by modulations of activity in cortical areas, which can ultimately affect behaviour. Light emerges as an important modulator of brain function and cognition.