Price: £119 plus VAT
Tweaking lighting and shading in a photo is a common enough task in Photoshop. But more extreme editing – such as adding rays of light through a window or throwing a tree shadow over a sunlit porch – are difficult to achieve with convincing, photo-realistic results. Mystical Lighting takes challenges such as these and attempts to make them easier to produce – or at least more adjustable and less frustrating.
There are 16 core effects to play with here. Some tackle everyday lighting issues such as Light Brush and Ethereal, which add ambient glows and highlighted streaks. Others, such as Flare, Radial Light Caster, and Spotlight, are intended for greater impact, and produce the impression of visible rays of light. Users can throw shadows from any mask shape (window frames or foliage, for example), and adjust their spread and intensity.
The interface is uncomplicated, in most cases involving a click-&-drag ellipse map over the image preview, along with a few slider controls to the left.
Some effects are applied as bézier paths, including Rainbow, Mist, and Fairy Dust. This offers a clue to Mystical Lighting’s most powerful feature: it’s resolution-independent. This means that you could experiment with a comping image, save your settings as a preset, then apply that preset to the full-resolution version of the image. Presets are maintained on your hard disk as individual files, so they can be shared across either Windows or Mac platforms.
Although offered as a Photoshop plug-in – also compatible with the likes of Corel Photo-Paint and Jasc’s Paint Shop Pro – Mystical Lighting can be run as a standalone program. The advantage of launching it within your photo-editing package is that your special lighting effects are applied only to the current image layer. But within that layer, Mystical Lighting allows you to build cumulative results with multiple effect layers. And not all of these layers need to be special lighting effects: they can be colour adjustment layers or even masks, albeit only those created within Mystical Lighting at the time.
Another benefit of running the plug-in from within Photoshop is its support for the Ctrl/Cmd-F keyboard command, letting you apply your last bunch of filter settings to any other image. Effects can also be added to Actions.
The main limitation of the product is that it can be tricky to master. Just because the interface is simple and easy to manipulate doesn’t make it necessarily easy to understand, nor does it guarantee that your results will be any good. Even with the help of the well-illustrated manual and plenty of time to experiment, we found Mystical Lighting to be something of a challenge in itself. Unless you tread carefully, the results won’t be photo-realistic. We found this especially true with the Mist and Wispy Mist effects, as well as the disappointing Flare.
On the other hand, the plug-in does encourage experimentation, because you can keep fiddling with the controls interactively. This is clearly a good thing compared with using conventional brush tools and endlessly having to Undo. In other words, Mystical Lighting can be powerful in the right hands – but don’t expect quick fixes or instant success.