I used to think look past just means ignore until I heard this sentence used by an American talking about a picture saying,

"If you look past the picture, you can see a horse."

I gave it an online search and the related pages show hidden 3D pictures. I can tell then the picture he was talking about was one of these. The thing I'm not clear about is how you do it. How do you look past a picture exactly? Is it making the picture closer to your eyes or vice versa? Is it looking at the picture from sides? or something else?!

  • is this a question from someone whose native language is not English?
    – mobileink
    Nov 21, 2016 at 23:46
  • @mobileink when you say a question from someone, do you mean that someone's asking a question or somebody else is asking that someone a question? in other words, from here means coming from or meant to be asked someone?
    – Yuri
    Nov 22, 2016 at 6:47
  • you said you heard an American say something.so are you asking because American English is not your native language (so you need informants)? it makes a difference in how we interpret the question.
    – mobileink
    Nov 22, 2016 at 19:45
  • @mobileink it's common to mention where you heard or saw the language being used while asking a question and no i'm not a native English speaker.
    – Yuri
    Nov 22, 2016 at 23:29

2 Answers 2


When you look at an object normally, you look at it with both eyes. Each eye has a line of sight, and those lines of sight cross at the object's surface. Looking at the picture means that the crossing point is on the picture's surface.

Eyes converge on the surface of the image

Looking past an object means that the lines of sight cross behind the object. If you can get your lines of sight to cross at the right distance past the surface of one of these special pictures, there is an illusion of a 3-D image. This happens because these special pictures are repetitive, and focusing on the right distance past the picture's surface makes the repetitions line up. Small differences in the repetitions create the 3-D illusion.

Eyes converge past the surface of the image

  • 11
    In this particular case we're dealing with a context significantly different to figurative usages such as If you look past the raw data you'll see [something more profound]. In practice, because that figurative usage is so common, and because lots of people actually have trouble even understanding the "magic eye" context, let alone doing the "defocusing", I think it's probably more common to use If you focus past the [autostereogram] picture, you'll see something in 3d. But we rarely use focus like that for my figurative example. Nov 20, 2016 at 18:15
  • +1 I see. Thank you. @FumbleFingers and thank you for the additional information.
    – Yuri
    Nov 20, 2016 at 18:57
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    magiceye.com "Focus as though you are looking through the image into the distance."
    – Mazura
    Nov 20, 2016 at 22:17
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    Contrary to what @1006a says, your virtual image (reflection) in a shop window is at about the same distance as the goods on display. The relevant surface is the writing (if any) on the glass, which is midway between your real eyes and your reflected eyes. Nov 21, 2016 at 9:49
  • 1
    You can practice this when window shopping. First, look at the surface of the glass—at any smudges or dust or writing on the glass. That is equivalent to focusing on the surface of the picture. Then focus through the window at the items on display. That is the equivalent of looking past the surface of the picture, to focus on the hidden 3D image. You can also use a mirror, focusing first on the surface of the mirror (smudges, etc.) and then through the looking glass at your own reflection. If you get used to what this change in focus feels like, it will be easier to see the "magic" pictures.
    – 1006a
    Nov 21, 2016 at 15:00

Look past doesn't always mean 'ignore'. It can also mean 'look beyond'. If there's a building in the foreground of my field of view, and a tree in the background, then I can say:

If you look past the building you'll see a maple tree.

  • Just to be sure we're on the same page, I'm talking about a hidden 3D picture. You see these pictures that in the first look you just see random lines and colors. So if you look past these pictures you should try to find a way to see beyond these random patterns. So look past doesn't say anything about the positioning of your eyes or the picture, it just simply means try to see beyond. Am I right?
    – Yuri
    Nov 20, 2016 at 16:25
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    Yes. The hidden 3D picture thing is a special case that we don't have specific words for in English.
    – John Feltz
    Nov 20, 2016 at 16:35

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