The emergent behaviors of communities of genotypically identical cells cannot be easily predicted from the behaviors of individual cells. In many cases, it is thought that direct cell-cell communication plays a critical role in the transition from individual to community behaviors. In the unicellular photosynthetic cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803, individual cells exhibit light-directed motility ("phototaxis") over surfaces, resulting in the emergence of dynamic spatial organization of multicellular communities. To probe this striking community behavior, we carried out time-lapse video microscopy coupled with quantitative analysis of single-cell dynamics under varying light conditions. These analyses suggest that cells secrete an extracellular substance that modifies the physical properties of the substrate, leading to enhanced motility and the ability for groups of cells to passively guide one another. We developed a biophysical model that demonstrates that this form of indirect, surface-based communication is sufficient to create distinct motile groups whose shape, velocity, and dynamics qualitatively match our experimental observations, even in the absence of direct cellular interactions or changes in single-cell behavior. Our computational analysis of the predicted community behavior, across a matrix of cellular concentrations and light biases, demonstrates that spatial patterning follows robust scaling laws and provides a useful resource for the generation of testable hypotheses regarding phototactic behavior. In addition, we predict that degradation of the surface modification may account for the secondary patterns occasionally observed after the initial formation of a community structure. Taken together, our modeling and experiments provide a framework to show that the emergent spatial organization of phototactic communities requires modification of the substrate, and this form of surface-based communication could provide insight into the behavior of a wide array of biological communities.