Bismuth vanadate (BiVO4) is a promising semiconductor material for the production of solar fuels via photoelectrochemical water splitting, however, it suffers from substantial recombination losses that limit its performance to well below its theoretical maximum. Here we demonstrate for the first time that the photoelectrochemical (PEC) performance of BiVO4 photoanodes can be dramatically improved by prolonged exposure to AM 1.5 illumination in the open circuit (OC) configuration. Photoanodes subjected to such light treatment achieve a record photocurrent for undoped and uncatalysed BiVO4 of 3.3 mA cm−2 at 1.23 VRHE. Moreover, photoelectrochemical tests with a sacrificial agent yield significantly enhanced catalytic efficiency over the whole operating potential range, suggesting elimination of major losses at the semiconductor–electrolyte interface. Finally, we demonstrate that this so-called ‘photocharging’ technique induces a considerable cathodic shift in the photocurrent onset potential and increases the photovoltage extracted from BiVO4 photoanodes.