A physical model is presented for the semiconductor electrode of a photoelectrochemical cell. The model accounts for the potential drop in the Helmholtz layer and thus enables description of both band edge pinning and unpinning. The model is based on the continuity equations for charge carriers and direct charge transfer from the energy bands to the electrolyte. A quantitative calculation of the position of the energy bands and the variation of the quasi-Fermi levels in the semiconductor with respect to the water reduction and oxidation potentials are presented. Calculated photocurrent–voltage curves are compared with established analytical models and experimental data. Our model calculations are suitable to enhance understanding and improve the properties of semiconductors for photoelectrochemical water splitting.