Defining where and in what form lymphocytes encounter antigen is fundamental to understanding how immune responses occur. Although knowledge of the recognition of antigen by CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells has advanced greatly, understanding of the dynamics of B cell-antigen encounters has lagged. With the application of advanced imaging approaches, encounters of this third kind are now being brought into focus. Multiple processes facilitate these encounters, from the filtering functions of lymphoid tissues and migration paths of B cells to the antigen-presenting properties of macrophages and follicular dendritic cells. This Review will discuss how these factors work together in the lymph node to ensure efficient and persistent exposure of B cells to diverse forms of antigen and thus effective triggering of the humoral response.