I think what you're looking to do is to use a luminosity mask to target
which tones in the image are being modified:

http://blog.patdavid.net/2013/11/getting-around-in-gimp-luminosity-masks.html

There's a discussion of this on gimpchat as well:
http://gimpchat.com/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=8983

On Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 4:05 PM Jack Denman <cashm...@roadrunner.com> wrote:

> Using Gimp, I would like to modify the highlights without modifying the
> middle tomes on the shadows. I would like to increase the contrast of
> just the highlight areas or darkening a little without modifying the
> middle tones or the shadows. I don't care how complex the procedure is,
> just how to do it. I am not asking about "blown out" highlights. Any
> answer would be appreciated.
>
> Jack
>
>
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