Clean Air and Great Photography Brings a Whole New Visual Backdrop to Azerbaijan’s Capital.

The Caspian Post
On an ultra-clear day, Baku has an unexpected if distant mountain backdrop.

Alexey Lyokin is one of Azerbaijan’s star photographers. The Caspian Post has already showcased his arresting images of the ‘Candycane Mountains’ near Khizi, but here we focus on a stunning set of photos that show Baku from a previously unseen perspective.


Taken with a powerful zoom in late May 2019, they create the impression that the snow-topped peaks of the High Caucasus are rising on the city’s northern horizon. “I could not believe my eyes,” Lyokin exclaimed when he first saw what appeared to be the snow-covered massifs of Babadag and Shahdag. But there seemed to be no other logical alternative.


“It was the end of the spring, so when I saw that much snow, I realized that it could only survive without melting above 3,000 meters.” The only realistic option was that this was the high Caucasus - but he was still concerned with the sheer improbability of getting such a view. So to test the theory scientifically, he found online calculators that work out the possible technical limits on visibility distance depending on the altitudes of viewpoint and view.


Lining up the views with online mapping, it became clear that the snow-topped mountains really were those of the Greater Caucasus.


He figured that from his vantage point in a building in Baku’s Ahmedli suburb from which the pictures were taken, his altitude was around 45m above sea level. Sure enough, with this data, the calculations suggested that – in exceptionally clear air – the white crowns that rose so magnificently behind the city could indeed be over 200km to the north/northwest. That fit his hunch that he was seeing none other than Babadag and Shahdag, two prominent mountains in the Greater Caucasus.


“I’ve been to the top of Babadag more than ten times and shot photos from many different points,” Lyokin mused, “so I know the contours.” His climbing friends agreed. But to have this degree of clarity looking across the vast Azerbaijani capital was nonetheless a very rare opportunity.


Lyokin has climbed most of Azerbaijan’s major peaks, so is familiar with their contours.

More surprising still is the season. Generally winter – not May! – offers the best hope for spotting the faintest glimpse of the mountains from Baku. That’s because cold air “is more transparent and evaporation is less in this season.” Prolonged rain for preceding days is also an essential condition for clear weather as it purifies the air. And one needs fresh air not only in Baku but also in the intervening areas of Shamakhi, Khizi and Ismayilli, as clouds in these regions will obscure the mountains.


Even on a very clear day like this, some haze is rising from the regions between Baku and the mountains.

Though considerably closer (around 90km), the rocky thumb of Beshbarmaq doesn’t show up nearly as well as the higher Caucasian peaks due to the lack of snow adhering to its craggy form.


Beshbarmaq is hazily visible at the eastern end of the snowy ridge in this photo.

Although Alexey insists that even a smartphone camera would have snapped at least a hint of the mountains on that day, his photos are made far sharper and more dramatic by the use of a 150-600mm lens with a magnification of 1.5x.


Lyokin’s camera and 150-600mm lens add to his artistic vision.

To see a whole lot more of Alexey’s work, visit his lyokin_com Instagram page.