The ability of vertebrates and insects to perceive and process information about the visual world is mediated by neural circuits, which share a strikingly conserved architecture of reiterated columnar and layered synaptic units. Recent genetic approaches conferring single-cell resolution have enabled major advances in our understanding of the cellular and molecular strategies that orchestrate visual circuit assembly in Drosophila. Photoreceptor axon targeting relies on a sequence of interdependent developmental steps to achieve temporal coordination with the formation and maturation of partner neurons. Distinct targeting events depend on anterograde and autocrine signaling, neuron-glia interactions, axon tiling and the timely expression of homophilic cell surface molecules. These mediate local adhesive or repulsive interactions of photoreceptor axons with each other and with target neurons.