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We present a real-time imaging technique for surface acoustic waves on samples with opaque substrates. We image the surface acoustic wave propagation on a silicon substrate coated with a gold film, and derive the dispersion relation for propagation in symmetry directions. In addition, we image surface acoustic waves at frequencies up to 2 GHz on a diamond substrate coated with a gold film, and on a microstructure deposited on a silicon substrate. © 2003 American Institute of Physics.