Photonic crystals form an exciting new class of optical materials that can greatly affect optical propagation and light emission. As the relevant length scale is smaller than the wavelength of light, sub-wavelength detection forms an important ingredient to obtain full insight in the physical properties of photonic crystal structures. Spatially resolved near-field measurements allow the observation of phenomena that remain hidden to diffraction-limited far-field investigations. Here, we present near-field investigations in both collection and illumination modes that highlight the power of local studies. We show how propagation losses are unambiguously determined and that light detected in far-field transmission can actually contain contributions from different, sometimes unexpected, local scattering phenomena. Simulations are used to support our findings. Furthermore, it is shown that local coupling of light to a thick three-dimensional photonic crystal is position-dependent and that the spatial distribution of the coupling efficiency itself is frequency-dependent.