In reporting and explaining the interactions of light with atoms and molecules, a photon-based description is not only appropriate but clearly essential when electronic or other kinds of quantum transition ensue. However, textbook treatments frequently go no further than the Planck relation, in representing the quantum nature of the light itself – often resorting to classical principles when discussing mechanism. Complete consistency and rigour can be achieved by treating both the matter and the radiation in a fully quantised form, which requires the electromagnetic fields to be cast in a quantum field representation. It proves possible to develop a rigorous approach to this theory that is simple to convey and apply, and which lends itself to a significantly enhanced level of appreciation of mechanism. This paper lays a concise foundation and exemplifies the application in three specific cases: absorption, emission, and scattering. It is also shown how this formulation affords a basis for applications in higher-order, multiphoton and nonlinear optical processes.