In 1990, he was the Head of the Jury at the 40th Berlin International Film Festival. He came to prominence with his work on sixteen films for Rainer Werner Fassbinder beginning with Whity (1970) and, including The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), Satan's Brew and Chinese Roulette (both 1976). Since settling in the United States, he has also worked on many American films, including Baby It's You (1983) for John Sayles.
After Hours (1985), The Color of Money (1986), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Goodfellas (1990), The Age of Innocence (1993), Gangs of New York (2002), and The Departed (2006) for Martin Scorsese. Dracula (1992) for Francis Ford Coppola, and Sleepers (1996) for Barry Levinson. Ballhaus released his documentary In Berlin together with Ciro Cappelari in May 2009.
Member Academy Motion Pictures, British Academie of Film, Akademie der Künte Berlin.
Married Helga Mavia Betten, August 23, 1958. Children: Sebastian, Florian.