This distinguished cinematographer reportedly developed an interest in filmmaking after director Max Ophuls allowed him to watch the filming of "Lola Montes" (1955). In 1970, Ballhaus shot "Whity," the first of some 15 films for Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In some ways his work for the enigmatic German director was not a harbinger for Ballhaus' talents. Fassbinder worked at a furious pace, making lighting textures problematic, and his camera was often static, leaving it up to the cinematographer to provide energy in scenes which have been classified as deliberately claustrophobic. While several of these films are known only to cineastes, a few like "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" (1972) and "The Marriage of Maria Braun" (1978) were art-house successes.