Nanoscale Bi-based photocatalysts are promising candidates for visible-light-driven photocatalytic environmental remediation and energy conversion. However, the performance of bulk bismuthal semiconductors is unsatisfactory. Increasing efforts have been focused on enhancing the performance of this photocatalyst family. Many studies have reported on component adjustment, morphology control, heterojunction construction, and surface modification. Herein, recent topics in these fields, including doping, changing stoichiometry, solid solutions, ultrathin nanosheets, hierarchical and hollow architectures, conventional heterojunctions, direct Z-scheme junctions, and surface modification of conductive materials and semiconductors, are reviewed. The progress in the enhancement mechanism involving light absorption, band structure tailoring, and separation and utilization of excited carriers, is also introduced. The challenges and tendencies in the studies of nanoscale Bi-based photocatalysts are discussed and summarized. Copyright © 2018 The Royal Society of Chemistry.