This year, Apple’s yearly holiday ad was incredibly moving showing a teenage boy who had created a holiday video for his family that brought laughter and tears of joy. These sorts of videos are the absolute best gift. Last year, our family received a similar video from an au-pair that had been caring for our daughter. The video moved us to tears and it does each time we watch it, which is often. Sometimes the best gifts are ones created using your imagination, creativity and a little time. If you’ve got an iPhone, you can create a video just like the holiday video shown on Apple’s website. Here are a few tips, apps and suggestions for making a personal holiday video for your family.

Create Apple holiday video

What You’ll Need

  • iPhone
  • iMovie for iOS
  • Apple TV (optimal for view on TV or else sync to home PC/Mac)

Shooting Tips

Always Hold Your iPhone Horizontally
Never shoot vertically, unless you are taking photos. When you shoot video horizontally, the aspect ratio will work with all modern HDTVs.

Keep It Steady
Where possible, try and keep a steady hand. If you want to raise the bar, think about investing in a small iPhone tripod.

Use Light
Lighting can be used to create dramatic, almost angelic effects. If you notice, a number of key shots in their video shows beautiful, bright, shining day light on the family members. In photography, lighting is your best friend.

Use good lighting

Shoot Video Of Your Family And Plenty Of It
Your family will be the stars of the home video. You are in charge of being the story teller. The holidays come and go quickly, so maybe you’re finding it difficult to get enough footage of everyone. You could opt for a different strategy, leaning on videos you’ve shot throughout the year. Every good story has a start and finish. Perhaps you start with video you shot early in the summer and finish up with family video as recent as this week. Think of your video as a year in review. That’s just one idea. You’re the director, so get creative and have a plan of action for your short film. Apple leans on laughter throughout and that’s a good idea, it makes people happy and you should aim to do just that with your video.

Set The Scene

Fake snow and some lawn furniture
If you live in winter climate, you’re all set. Find an outdoor table that’s covered with snow. Using a stick or your finger, create the custom title for your holiday video. If you live where there isn’t snow, lucky you. To recreate this scene, you’ll need to find fake snow. I’d recommend any craft store, like Michaels or you might even find some at your local Home Depot or Lowes.

Holiday title

The video rotates from left to right and it’s actually a bit shaky, probably done for authenticity more than effect. Open up the ‘camera app’, swipe right and capture the video while holding your iPhone horizontally.

Nothing Says Home Like Home (And Props)
There is a shot at the beginning of the video that looks out onto a porch, looking at snow, trees and a Radio Flyer wagon. This is all about home during the holidays. Your front door is where you welcome friends and family. If you have a holiday wreath on the door, all the better. As for the outside, maybe you swap out the Radio Flyer for a holiday plant, sleds or decorations. You want this shot to symbolize home during the holidays.


Later in the video, they revisit the wreath, so you’ll gain bonus points for 2x wreath shots.


On the topic of lights, this one should be dead simple. Get out a step stool or ladder and shoot a close-up of your holiday lights. Apple’s commercial shoots these in daylight, but I’m inclined to think it might work better if you shoot at night.

Cast Winter (where possible)
Winter, snow and all that goes along with this season is synonymous with Christmas. Take cues from their video which includes big, snow filled evergreens, a snow covered roof with icicles and a selfie of your favorite winter glove, backdropped by snow.


The Gingerbread Village (Or Any Village)
Gingerbread cookies cannot move, so they look pretty boring if they were to be filmed. Alas, we can use the old school animation creation technique of compiling multiple photos. Many houses have small villages as part of their Christmas decorations, so you can substitute those if the gingerbreads are unavailable for work. Move villagers around, each time taking a photo with your iPhone. Again, hold your iPhone horizontal, to keep the format in line with the rest of your movie.

Don’t Forget Fido
Your dog (or in my case, cats) are a big part of any family. Be sure to include them in your video! Apple includes both cats and dogs in their video. For some inexplicable reason, the dogs get more camera time. Likely because the cats are deeply invested in more important matters that aimlessly milling around the house.

Pets in video

Put Yourself In The Video
If the cats, dogs and the Uncle no one likes made the cut, you as the director of this awesome family video needs to be in it. Within the camera app, there’s a camera icon with what looks like ‘recycle’ arrows. Tap on that to turn the camera around and shoot yourself doing something festive. Smiling and in front of a Christmas tree will work wonders.

Christmas tree selfie

Putting It All Together Using iMovie

If you recently purchased an iOS device, you can get iMovie for free from the App Store. Using iMove, we’ll be able to edit our entire video directly on the iPhone.

  1. Tap on the ‘+’ to create a new project and select ‘Movie’
  2. Here you can select a template. Keep things simple and select ‘Simple’, followed by create movie.
  3. At the left of your timeline, you can add film and music (filmstrip/musical note icon). Locate and insert media (video clips) using the down arrow
  4. Insert all of the clips you’d like to include.

Insert video iMovie

Apple uses slow motion often when showing family shots. Shorter clips, in slow-motion will work wonders, when combined with the preset shots outlined above.

  1. Tap on a clip to select it (yellow border indicates it is selected)
  2. Tap on ‘speed’. Using the slider, adjust left to slow down your clip. From the looks of the video, they slow down about 2/3x.

Slow motion video

Work through your clips, until you have a rough draft of your video. Note that iMovie will insert transitions between your clips. If you want to change them, tap on the ‘two-arrows’ and select a new transition from the bottom menu. You can press play to preview each transition.


Nothing conveys emotion like a good soundtrack and you can use the same song featured in Apple’s holiday commercial. You can purchase Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by Cat Power in iTunes for $0.69. Your videos have sound and by slowing down the video, it probably resembles the teacher from Charlie Brown. Tap on each clip, select ‘Audio’ and slide it all the way to the left to mute audio from your clips.

Mute audio

Tap on the flimstrip/music note icon. Select the ‘Audio’ tab and find that Cat Power track. Select the insert icon (down arrow). You should see a green bar across the screen. If so, you’ve successfully imported the soundtrack to your video.

Audio track inserted

Tap on the play button to preview what will be the final project. Tap on the arrow at the top left. You should see ‘My Movie’. Tap on it and rename it ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’.

Happy Holidays


The easiest method of playback, also shown in the ad, is to use AirPlay to an Apple TV. To do so, press the play icon, followed by the AirPlay icon. iMovie will now prepare the video for AirPlay. Depending upon the length, a 2 minute film should take 30 seconds to prepare. When it’s done, press Apple TV as the playback option.

If you decide to take up this project for Christmas, I wish you the best with creating a holiday video for your family or friends. If you end up putting on YouTube or Vimeo, be sure to add a link in the comments.

If I could offer any final tips, it would be to avoid trying to be too perfect. In fact, I’d say it’s the imperfections of videos that make them so incredibly real. Have a plan, use the tools as outlined and finally, ‘dim the lights’.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and your family!