The impact of light-sheet fluorescence microscopy (LSFM) is visible in fields as diverse as developmental and cell biology, anatomical science, biophysics and neuroscience. Although adoption among biologists has been steady, LSFM has not displaced more traditional imaging methods despite its often-superior performance. One reason for this is that the field has largely conformed to a do-it-yourself ethic, although the challenges of big image data cannot be overstated. With the most powerful implementations of LSFM available to only a few groups worldwide, the scope of this technique is unnecessarily limited. Here we elucidate the key developments and define a simple set of underlying principles governing LSFM. In doing so, we aim to clarify the decisions to be made for those who wish to develop and use bespoke light-sheet systems and to assist in identifying the best approaches to apply this powerful technique to myriad biological questions.