We discuss the first applications of our newly developed Monte Carlo event generator SOPHIA to multiparticle photoproduction of relativistic protons with thermal and power-law radiation fields. The measured total cross section is reproduced in terms of excitation and decay of baryon resonances, direct pion production, diffractive scattering, and non-diffractive multiparticle production. Non-diffractive multiparticle production is described using a string fragmentation model. We demonstrate that the widely used ‘Δ-approximation’ for the photoproduction cross section is reasonable only for a restricted set of astrophysical applications. The relevance of this result for cosmic ray propagation through the microwave background and hadronic models of active galactic nuclei and gamma-ray bursts is briefly discussed.