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The Dodgy Bros of photo contests

You don’t have to dive too deep before you come across some bizarre examples of the genus ‘photo contest’. Take the AFNS Awards for maternity and newborn photography, which have been running since 2017, for starters…

‘Before we go any further, first what does AFNS stand for?’ you might ask. I know I did. And discovered after some exploration that it stands for well, nothing really. Just like ‘One-Hour Dry Cleaners is simply the name of the shop, dear’, ‘AFNS’ is simply the name of the Awards. It’s a group of letters posing as an acronym. Sounds really official though. In a world of Fake News, it was surely only time before the Fake Acronym reared its ugly head.

Former model and rock musician Michael Stief has now turned his hand to the lucrative photo contest business. (Source: AFNS Facebook page.)

All you need to know is that if you manage to have been a place-getter in the monthly AFNS Awards, you qualify to enter the AAPC Awards. But more of that later…

You also qualify to purchase – for 30 Euros ($45) – an AFNS Certificate noting your achievement, to hang on your wall. Entry is 10 Euros ($15) for one pic up to 50 Euros ($75) for 10 pics. If you ‘win’ that month’s contest you receive a Winners Badge that ‘may be used for your own website’. That’s it.

But that’s probably not fair, because everyone’s a winner in the AFNS Awards simply for paying their $15 entry fee: ‘All participants in the AFNS Award receive a non-profit [meaning you don’t actually have to pay for it] participant badge when registering for the contest.’

There appears to be dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of  Winners each month. I counted 50 Winners on the AFNS Facebook page for the April competition then had to stop after reaching Peak Cute.

The founder of the AFNS Awards is German ex-model, rock musician, photographer and now photo contest entrepreneur called Michael Stief. (Couldn’t tell you what that rhymes with as I don’t speak German.)

On the AFNS Facebook page he noted that 1500 entries had been assessed for April. (So with 12 competitions a year with an average, say $10 per entry and 1500 entries per contest we see the AFNS Awards grossing around $180,000 per year, plus the rich pickings from the virtual certificates.)

For just $45 you will be sent a digital file which you can print out as a wall certificate. (Source: AFNS website)

There are seven categories, with First, Second and Third place-getters in each. As well as that there is a Winners Badge; ‘This badge is given to all winners who have submitted to the AFNS Award judging process’ and a Special Badge ‘given to very special Pictures who have been submitted to the AFNS Award’. It’s a byzantine structure.

The beauty of this business is that there are no actual prizes to cut into the gross revenue from the entry fees. It’s all about collecting ‘virtual’ badges and certificates – and even those don’t attract printing or postage costs!

But there is another option available if you want to climb closer to the top of the pyramid – the aforementioned AAPC Awards. AAPC might stand for ‘AFNS Awards Prime Contest’ – or it might be just another meaningless string of letters. To enter the AACS Awards (at 10 Euros a pop) you have to have won a ‘Winner Badge or Higher’ in the AFNS Awards. The neat thing about these awards (besides the fact that there is an actual annual cash price of 2000 Euros) is that, ‘Within 24 hours we will rate your pictures and assign the badges to your pictures and upload your pictures to the winner galleries. You can download the assigned badges directly from your profile and use them for your promotion.’ Enter early, enter often!

– We assign your AAPC level points to your profile and you can start collecting more points to get to the top of the ranking list with the chance to win the title ‘AAPC Photographer of the Year’. All Top 100 photographers of the year receive a ‘AAPC Top 100 Photographer of the Year’ certificate.
– Collect as many badges with your pictures as possible in 2021 and win great prizes and products from our generous sponsors.

Even a score of 1 out of 10 for an image will get you a Bronze Award. How good are the AAPC Awards! Let me put that an other way: How good are the AAPC Awards?

The more times you pay your 10 Euros, the more badges you collect and the higher you go on the league table. Currently top place is occupied by a photographer with 106 AAPC badges – so at least 1060 Euros spent on entries (putting aside the qualifying entry fees for the lesser AFNSA Awards). And we are only in May.

It’s interesting to note that of the Top 100 list, well over 90 percent are women. No quotas required here!

The AFNS and AAPC websites are the property of the Newborn Photographer Community LLC, based in the tax haven-ish state of Delaware, USA. Yet principal Michael Stief is in Munich, Germany. Perhaps this avoids the obligation to pay European VAT.

NPC winners with their wall certificates. (Source:

The gobsmacker – if you’ve read this far –  is that Newborn Photographer Community LLC runs a more US-focussed parallel to the AFNS/AACS um, model, complete with similar badges and certificates in place of actual prizes. The NPC, or ‘International Newborn Photo Awards’ has five categories and contestants climb a four-badge, eight-rung matrix of prestige. (It’s hard to get one’s head around.) Each entry costs US$25 and there is no limit to the number of entries. The first level, ‘Accomplice Level’, is achieved with 100 points or more –  a Platinum Badge’s worth of points. (Told you it was complicated.) At minimum this would require 10 x 10/10 point entries (which would cost $250).  Top level – Epic Level – is achieved with 10,000 points. That would costs many thousands of dollars: say average points earned were 8/10. That would require 1,250 individual entries @ $25 each, or $31,250. (I will stand corrected here – arithmetic isn’t a strong suite.)  You get a certificate, though.

Top of the NPC Leaders Top 100 currently has 1130 points and enjoys the half-way house status of Master Level – there’s a ways for her to go: Star, Fame, Cult and Epic. Keep those entries coming in! The remarkable thing is that there are people out there who apparently have achieved Epic level. But at what cost?
– Keith Shipton



  1. Chris Oaten Chris Oaten May 11, 2021

    Just wondering if it might be easier and less time-consuming to run stories on comps that are NOT dodgy?

  2. R Skovell R Skovell May 11, 2021

    This reminds me of a dodgy baby book scam run by a Victorian photo printer who has a penchant for Ferrari’s and had a studio next to a Maccas restaurant in Melbourne.
    The books failed to attract the ongoing business promoted by the said photo printer.

  3. Matt Makinson Matt Makinson May 11, 2021

    Thank you for spending the time and effort in highlighting dubious businesses. This is the only way to publicly protect our industry from unscrupulous entrepreneurs.
    Yes it is easier and less time consuming in not investigating the dodgy ones but then again how would you know they were NOT dodgy unless you investigated them?
    In the words of JFK on going to the moon. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”

    • Keith Shipton Keith Shipton Post author | May 13, 2021

      Truly appreciate the appreciation Matt! We decided to drop into this photo contest rabbit hole basically because we were scratching around for interesting content and, like Alice, have found it curiouser and curiouser the closer we look. There are a lot of gullible people out there thinking that dubious credentials and stupid badges and certificates are a route to photographic career, and a bunch of, um, ‘businesspeople’ keen to exploit that gullibility. Beats actually working for a living!

  4. Harvey Gordon Harvey Gordon May 12, 2021

    Not only are they making $$$$ from the so called competitions they are probably also raking in a fortune from selling the images through dodgy websites, with no compensation to the photographers!

  5. Roger Roger May 15, 2021

    any competition that requires an entry fee is dubious in my book. You submit a photo and it is judged on its merit and you win a real prize or win a real commendation not make some low life wealthy!

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