Proton acceleration from the interaction of ultra-short laser pulses with thin foil targets at intensities greater than 10(18) W cm(-2) is discussed. An overview of the physical processes giving rise to the generation of protons with multi-MeV energies, in well defined beams with excellent spatial quality, is presented. Specifically, the discussion centres on the influence of laser pulse contrast on the spatial and energy distributions of accelerated proton beams. Results from an ongoing experimental investigation of proton acceleration using the 10 Hz multi-terawatt Ti : sapphire laser (35 fs, 35 TW) at the Lund Laser Centre are discussed. It is demonstrated that a window of amplified spontaneous emission (ASE) conditions exist, for which the direction of proton emission is sensitive to the ASE-pedestal preceding the peak of the laser pulse, and that by significantly improving the temporal contrast, using plasma mirrors, efficient proton acceleration is observed from target foils with thickness less than 50 nm.