A little exercise, results shown below, have helped, I hope, solidify something that should have been blindingly obvious from the start. (This is in the nature of a soliloquy, so don't complain!)
On Washington Valley Road, in the vicinity of Gabriel's Fountain, we came across this church. In the pictures below, the sun is setting and is just below the top of the tower. Taken from the car window, so that should explain the artifact on the lower left. BTW, I don't think the streaks in the sky are lens flare, as I recall, the sky did look like that.
In this first, the exposure was governed by the bright sky, and this is how it came out of the camera.
It was possible by a simple manipulation of the luminance curve in Photoshop to render it thus:
A look at the histograms before and after is illuminating. The exposure has enough information retained to make a substantial improvement possible.
It is a matter of shrinking all the unused range of luminance.
Here's another shot, this time the exposure is governed by the foreground and the sky is blown out.
You'll have to take my word for it, but nothing I tried could restore any detail in the sky. The luminance histogram tells us why - the luminance information has been mostly lost.
The exposure should be such as to maximize the information captured, in this case the camera should expose the brightest area correctly.
(Tools used - Photoshop Elements 2.0 on MacOS X, and Photoshop 3.0.5 in MacOS 9 (Classic)).
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