The unique optical characteristics of noble metal nanostructures have their origin principally in surface plasmon resonances. To exploit and design the unique characteristics arising from plasmons, an investigation of optical field structures adjacent to the nanostructure is of fundamental importance. As the spatial scale of the optical field structures is essentially smaller than the radiation wavelength in resonance with the plasmon, optical imaging methods that achieve spatial resolution beyond the diffraction limit of light are necessary to visualise the fields. In this article, we review the studies of direct experimental visualisation of plasmon resonances using near-field optical microscopy. We briefly describe the method of near-field optical microscopy used to study noble metal nanoparticles and show with several typical single gold nanoparticles that the spatial features of plasmon resonances, in particular the standing wave functions of the plasmons, can be directly visualised by near-field imaging. We then describe our recent efforts to visualise ultrafast dynamics in metal nanostructures following plasmonic excitation, which are based on near-field ultrafast imaging measurements. Another notable aspect of metal nanostructures that has attracted attention recently is the chirality of plasmons. Here, we describe a method and examples of near-field optical imaging and analyses of chiral plasmons excited on metal nanostructures.
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