While binocular viewing of 2D pictures generates an impression of 3D objects and space, viewing a picture monocularly through an aperture produces a more compelling impression of depth and the feeling that the objects are “out there”, almost touchable. Here, we asked observers to actually reach into pictorial space under both binocular- and monocular-aperture viewing. Images of natural scenes were presented at different physical distances via a mirror-system and their retinal size was kept constant. Targets that observers had to reach for in physical space were marked on the image plane, but at different pictorial depths. We measured the 3D position of the index finger at the end of each reach-to-point movement.
Observers found the task intuitive. Reaching responses varied as a function of both pictorial depth and physical distance. Under binocular viewing, responses were mainly modulated by the different physical distances. Instead, under monocular viewing, responses were modulated by the different pictorial depths. Importantly, individual variations over time were minor, that is, observers conformed to a consistent pictorial space. Monocular viewing of 2D pictures thus produces a compelling experience of an immersive space and tangible solid objects that can be easily explored through motor actions.