© 2018 Optical Society of America. The light capturing properties of cone photoreceptors create the elementary signals that form the basis of vision. Variation in the amplitude of individual cone signals has been found physiologically as part of normal retinal circuit processing. Less well characterized is how cone signals may vary due to purely optical properties. We present a model of light propagation in cones using a finite difference beam propagation method to simulate how light from a small stimulus travels through a cone plus its immediate neighbors. The model calculates the amount of light absorbed in the cone outer segments, from which an estimate of the photoresponse can be made. We apply the method to adaptive optics microstimulation to find the optimum optical conditions that will confine the most light into a single cone in the human retina. We found that light capture is especially sensitive to beam size at the pupil and to the cone diameter itself, with the two factors having a complex relationship leading to sizable variation in light capture. Model predictions were validated with two types of psychophysical data. The model can be employed with arbitrary stimuli and photoreceptor parameters, making it a useful tool for studying photoreceptor function in normal or diseased conditions.