An advanced fluid visualisation technique, particle image velocimetry, was employed to investigate the hydrodynamic properties of particles and aggregates. The experiments were conducted in a settling column filled with a suspension of fluorescent polymeric beads as flow tracers. A thin vertical section of the settling column was illuminated by a laser sheet, while the motions of particles were recorded by a high speed CCD camera. Large solid spheres, flocs of latex microspheres and aggregates of marine diatoms were characterised for their hydrodynamic properties. The trajectories of the tracer particles were tracked when a large particle or aggregate settled through the suspension of the tracers, which gave the streamlines surrounding the falling object. The streamlines demonstrate directly the curvilinear feature of the interaction between approaching particles. However, the available curvilinear model underestimates the collision frequency function of particles by one order of magnitude or two. The collision potentials of the flocs and aggregates are more than an order of magnitude greater than the similar-sized solid spheres. Algal aggregates appear to be highly porous and fractal with a fluid collection efficiency of 10–40%, which would significantly enhance the flocculation between particles and the mass transfer into the aggregates.