The dynamics of the ablation plume of a partially ionized plasma produced by a nanosecond UV laser with different irradiation spot geometries has been explored. We have used an ensemble of quartz crystal microbalances to make the first systematic and quantitative study of how the shape of the plume varies as the aspect ratio (b/a) of the elliptical laser spot is varied by about a factor of ten. The flip-over effect can be described by the adiabatic expansion model of Anisimov using a value of the adiabatic constant of about gamma = 1.4. We have also studied the forward peaking of the ablation plume for a large number of metals at the same laser fluence. Contrary to earlier reports, we find that the more refractory metals have the broader angular distributions.