B. Anthony Stewart, an award-winning National Geographic photographer whose pictures became famous for their beauty, died yesterday of a heart attack at Lynchburg General Hospital in Virginia. He was 72.

Mr. Stewart, who worked for National Geographic Magazine for 42 years, won awards from the White House News Photographers Association and The National Press Photographers Association on various occasions.

"He was the epitome of the National Georgraphic photographer," recalled Robert E. Gilka, the magazine's director of photography. "Nobody else came close to him. His photograph of a Maine lobsterman in the snow, a New England covered bridge, and others are classics.

The editors were so impressed by his pictures from his first major assignment, in Maine, that they expanded the usual 16-page spread to 32 pages.

It was on this assignment that Mr. Stewart met his wife, the former Lillian Heald. He asked the authorities of a local town to persaude the prettisest girls to serve as models. The first to arrive was Miss Heald.

Mr. Stewart's career spanned the development of color photography, and he showed an ability to adapt to the new technologies and approaches to photojournalism.

He was a pioneer in using the view camera and 35mm equipment, and his pictures photographed with the new equipment were the first to be published in a magazine.

Yet despite his ability with photographic equipment, this was not his main interest. "He was not the type of person who got overly involved with the mechanics of photography. His skill was in seeing pictures," Gilka recalled.

Mr. Stewart traveled around the world taking photographs for the magazine. His specialty was the "geographic" scene. That is, pictures of foreign countries that portrayed the land the way people lived. On assignment in Russia, Mr. Stewart portrayed the reaction of the Russian people to the visit of then-Vice President Richard Nixon after his "kitchen debate" with Nikita Khrushchev. He also photographed in Canada, Europe, South America and the South Pacific.

"He has an inherent ability to make a pretty picture out of something that is not necessarily attractive to the average person," one of his colleagues, jack Fletcher, recalled at the time of Mr. Stewart's retirement.

A soft-spoken man, Mr. Stewart would ask few questions when he was given an assignment, according to Gilka. He would do his own research on the subject to be photographed and follow the instructions of his editors.

A native of Lynch Station, Va., Mr. Stewart had planned a career in business. He joined National Geographic in 1927 as secretary to the chief of the photography laboratory. By 1931 he had decided to pursue photography and joined the staff of the magazine.

Mr. Stewart's work had such an impact on people that National Geographic still receives letters from readers asking that the magazine republish his photographs.

Surviving are his wife, Lillian, and a son, Anthony, both of the home; two brothers, Richard H., of Chester Gap, Va., and Lloyd S. Silver, of Silver Spring; and two sisters, Mrs. L. B. Culp, of Sliver Spring, and Mrs. David Correll, of Winter Park, Fa.