The measurement of the real contact area between rough surfaces is one of the most challenging problems in contact mechanics and is of importance to understand some physical mechanisms in tribology. Based on the frustrated total internal reflection, a new apparatus is designed to measure the real contact area. For metallic samples with various surface topographies, the relation between normal load and the real contact area is measured. The unloading process is first considered to distinguish the contribution of elasticity and plasticity in contact with rough surfaces. It is found that both elasticity and plasticity are involved throughout the continuous loading process, different from some present understanding and assumptions that they play at different loading stages. A quantitative parameter is proposed to indicate the contribution of plasticity. The present work not only provides an experimental method to measure the real contact area but figures out how elastic and plastic deformation works in contact with rough surfaces.