The MESA+ Optical Sciences group has developed a technique that allows for charting the intrinsic optical characteristics of materials by using a so-called near-field microscope. In contrast to conventional microscopes, near-field microscopes employ a specially designed optical fibre to detect only the light propagating on the surface of materials. To properly connect to the surface waves, the fibre is actively held at no more than a few nanometres from the surface. Accurately scanning this fibre over the material allows for making an image of the surface waves. The technique is not only used for determining light intensity, but also its phase and polarization. Both literally and figuratively, the technique casts new light on the optical characteristics of innovative materials.