We start a series of studies of the excitation of an optical target by quantum light. In this first part, we introduce the problematic and address the first case of interest, that of exciting the quantum harmonic oscillator, corresponding to, e.g., a single-mode passive cavity or a non-interacting boson field. We introduce a mapping of the Hilbert space that allows to chart usefully the accessible regions. We then consider the quantum excitation from single photon sources in the form of a two-level system under various regimes of (classical) pumping: incoherent, coherent and in the Mollow triplet regime. We close this first opus with an overview of the material to be covered in the subsequent papers.