AutoFX Mystical Lighting

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A surprisingly powerful set of filters for controlling your images' lighting.

Auto FX the developer of Mystical Lighting is best known as the creator of the DreamSuite range of Photoshop special effects. In many ways Mystical Lighting is similar to the DreamSuite sets: it shares the same interface and operates both as a standalone application and as a Photoshop plug-in. However, unlike the DreamSuite collections, Mystical Lighting has a single clear focus - all 16 of its filters are concerned with the lighting in your images. 

As the program first loads you are presented with a splash screen showing the sort of image Mystical Lighting is capable of producing - a dappled forest with the sun streaming through to reveal a host of nubile and semi-clad fairy lovelies! This strong fantasy element is clearly what gives the program its title and filters such as Fairy Dust which sprinkles your artwork with tiny light sources, Rainbow which lets you add multihued gradients, Wispy Mist which lets you add fog and haze, Flare which lets you add sunbursts and star effects and Ethereal which adds a soft-focus dreamy effect will be warmly welcomed by soft-metal album cover designers all over the world.

AutoFX is promoting Mystical Lighting based on its fantasy effects.

Don't be put off though, or fooled into thinking that Mystical Lighting is just a collection of cheap and cheerful fantasy effects. To begin with, the level of control is extraordinary. With the Flare effect, for example, you choose between twenty different styles from Headlight to Nova and then independently control the effect's flare, streaks, rays, glare, glow and ring. And the results aren't crude and obvious superimpositions but surprisingly subtle, interacting with the lighting already there in the image. While you can produce an eye-catching supernova explosion, for example, you can just as easily add a subliminal twinkle to an image of a candle.

And there are plenty of other lighting effects useful outside the fantasy field. As you would expect you can add a number of realistic lighting sources to your image with the RadialLightCaster, SpotLight and, my personal favourite, the LightCaster effect - great for producing shafts of light breaking through clouds. Working in reverse there are the Shader and ShadowPlay effects that let you add shade and depth to your images. And most useful of all are the LightBrush and Shader effects that let you interactively paint on natural highlighting and shading.

In each case what makes the effect and its results impressive is the level of control not just from the host of parameters but from the each filter's dedicated tools. With the LightCaster effect, for example, as well as setting up the light source you can use the LightBlocker tool to paint on realistic interruptions of the light. Yet more control comes from Mystical Lighting's layer-based approach. This lets you apply multiple filters simultaneously while controlling their opacity and so their input into the final effect. You can also set up masking and basic colour adjustment layers to get exactly the effect you are after.

But it can also be used to add more subtle drama.

By this stage it's become clear that Mystical Lighting is capable of producing much more than fantasy images. By combining effects such as the LightCaster and LightBrush and Shader you can turn an everyday view into a dramatic landscape. By combining the Mottled Background and Edge Highlights you can turn an ordinary head shot into a glamorous portrait. And using the SpotLight, ShadowPlay and Ethereal filters you can turn an average photo into a soft-focus product shot that really sells its subject.

Ultimately every photo is based on light just as much as it is on colour and Mystical Lighting's focused approach lets you take absolute control of it. How you choose to use that power is up to you.

Tom Arah

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

System Requirements: Pentium II, 128Mb of RAM, 30Mb of hard disk space, Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000 and XP, 1024x768 display

July 2003

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